Follow the reader. (educational software) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Eddie Huffman
Dick and Jane had better get a new agent. For people with access to computers, at least, educational software has made some old-school learning techniques seem as archaic as horse-drawn transportation. A leader in the field has been Disney Software, employing the most recognizable corporate symbols this side of Joe Camel to make learning fun and multidimensional.
In Follow the Reader, a sequel to Mickey's ABC's aimed at ages 5-8, Mickey Mouse and the usual suspects traipse through a series of gentle, child-guided adventures. The program is easy to install and use, requiring a 286 machine and only rudimentary mouse or keyboard skills. Each screen offers a sentence with one or two variable words, giving options for Mickey to do something where he is or to haul his oversized ears elsewhere and do something there.
Mickey can wash his ears in the bathroom, write a letter to a friend in his bedroom, or pick up trash in the park. Spring for a Sound Source (an extra $20 if you buy the Follow the Reader combination pack), and you can hear sound effects, as well as a narrator reading the sentences your child helps create. The program also supports other major sound boards, though I never was able to get it to work properly using my Covox Sound Master II.
It sounded great through the Sound Source, though. The graphics aren't quite as good as the sound, offering rich color but moderately jaggy illustrations. Jaggy or not, though, the characters move and make noises in a way that kept my five-year-old son happy. He had no trouble with the interface, and I'm confident that Follow the Reader's intuitive, no-wrong-answers method of instruction will boost his reading skills over time.
Good help for grownups comes from the well-illustrated manual and an extra activity guide for parents and teachers, the capping virtues of a satisfying package. For young readers, Follow the Reader offers a goodlead.