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Friday, April 28, 2006

Masti ki Paathshala

No need to send your kids to expensive hobby classes to keep them busy and ready for school at the end of the holidays. Educational software is a more fun option, says Kavita Kukday

Sai is sitting in bed, giving us a fine view of her gullet, via the efficient medium of a big huge tantrum. “Mummy, its math time, I want to learn math right now!” Sai Ruparel is five years old, and absolutely adores studying. Surprised? Well mommy Ruparel has the answer: “It’s not the conventional math lesson she is asking for. She want professor Garfield to get on with his mathemagical adventures!” Digital media is fast evolving as a strong medium in the arena of toddler education. “Kids today learned to crawl alongside the PC, so they definitely have a leg up on parents when it comes to adapting to new technology. Plus they love to imitate parents, so instead of having them spend time playing mindless racing games, I opted for educational CD-ROMS,” says Veera Ruparel. There is no dearth of material. Hop into a toy or music shop and you find hundreds of CDs at affordable prices. The big names in the educational software section are Reader Rabbit, Jumpstart and Fischer Price, among others. The cutoff price for CDs for children is about Rs 200. Stay off pirated CDs sold on pavements, because more often than not, they are badly cut and the programs keep hanging or just simply don’t play. This can easily put off the child. You could also look at local libraries that allow you to borrow educational CDs, such as the British Council Library (BCL). Then, of course, there is the internet, which is a treasure trove of educational games sites. Click on www.disney.com or try the kids section of the NatGeo site (www.nationalgeographic.com/kids) and you’d be amazed at what you can find. “It’s amazing how designers of children’s digital media have created truly amazing software, hubbed around learning, without sacrificing fun or interactivity,” says Ruparel. Like Sai, Vaishree Goyal’s darling two-year-old twins, Anand and Anya, are already hooked on to the Muppets CD that teaches them logic, sorting and ordering, grouping and thinking skills. CDs meant for toddlers come with tiny exercises. So, Anaya can already identify most poisonous snakes, while Anand knows all the continents by heart. “Both are too young to handle the mouse, so I take care of scrolling. But they insist on clicking the ‘Enter’ button,” says Goyal. “Working with digital media is imperative these days. You just can’t grow up and say you won’t touch a PC. That makes it imperative that you learn to like them at a young age. Also, it’s absolutely necessary that you know the CDs or games like the back of your hand before you introduce them to your kids. Otherwise they will lose interest real fast,” adds Goyal. An important factor while buying CDs or looking up sites is to look for slick and easy-to-use designs. There is a lot of junk in the market and you definitely don’t want your toddlers to be weaned on the boring stuff and grow up to learn to hate digital media. Interactivity is a unique asset that distinguishes digital media from other conventional methods, so no point relying on uninspiring text-based design. Instead, spend a little more and go in for voice-based multimedia. Children, especially between the ages of two and 10, can lose patience very easily. That is another aspect that educational software helps your child with. Since most of this material is interactive, you’d see them concentrating for a longer period of time than with other activities. “Anand and Anya started with using the CDs for only 10 minutes at a time; now they happily go on for about an hour,” says Goyal. Here again there are two caveats: don’t let the kids go on for longer than a maximum of three hours just because they like a particular CD. And yes, it’s easy to turn your kids into brats by giving in to their demands of changing CDs often, so don’t do it—they have to learn to be patient. Amrita Vora, mother of 10-year-old Rohit and a teacher at a play school in Mumbai, agrees: “I use Jumpstart daily in my classroom and the kids beg for it! Rewards are important in teaching kids, but they don’t necessarily have to be materialistic. These educational games provide just that—they encourage the child to do well by giving points or graduate levels.” Another thing to keep in mind while choosing the software is to pick something your kid will be comfortable with. Say you have a choice of software for age five and age seven and your child is six years old. Make sure you take the one made for age five. This is about confidence building. If your child finds the software difficult, she might not even look at it again. As the child grows up, slowly start introducing her to the internet. Along with educational game sites, there are others you might want to look at, like Headline History (www.headlinehistory. co.uk), where children become reporters in virtual newspapers set in various historical periods. “Disney is another hot favourite with children. It has several adventure games that help build social skills. It introduces a bit of playfulness and teaches you how to interact with other children,” says Vora. Then you could also look at the Nasa site (kids.msfc.nasa.gov), which comes with the whole of space to play with. Among the fun activities available here are firing a cannonball into orbit (which teaches one of Newton’s laws of physics) and learning about the relationship between curved space and gravity. “Kids absorb education from multimedia twice as fast compared to the dull pen-and-paper medium. Weaning them on good software matters, because this technology is going to be running our lives,” Goyal insists. TNN Your Home Play School Affordable educational software CDs are easily available. Look in toy shops, libraries and music shops. Web sites like Disney and NatGeo are a treasure trove of great educational content for kids. Choose content, whether on CD or a web site, that's slick and easy to use. This will keep the kids interested. Make sure you know the CDs or games well before you introduce them to your kids. Opt for interactive multimedia over text-based content. This is a good way to increase your child’s levels of concentration.

TOI/23.04.2006/PG17

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