SOFTWARE developers are taking advantage of better color, improved sound, and more computer power to create hundreds of new children's programs each year.How do you pick the good ones? Warren Buckleitner, editor of the Buyer's Guide to Children's Software, looks for three things: child control, educational value, and design. That means a good program must be easy to use and allow young children to interact with it frequently. It must also teach something. Here's an advance peek at the four award-winning programs of the 1992 buyer's guide to be published early next year: Kid Works, a talking word-processor and art program. Children ages 4 to 10 can use Kid Works to create illustrated stories. The software runs on IBM-compatible computers and costs $49.95 from Davidson & Associates. Kid Pix, an easy-to-use graphics program with powerful features. It's aimed at children ages 3 and up (but adults will also want to dribble paint and draw automatic trees). The price is $69.95 from Broderbund Software, which offers IBM and Macintosh versions. The Treehouse, a program combining math, language, music, and other activities for children ages 6 to 10. The $69.95 program, also from Broderbund, is available in IBM, Apple, or Macintosh versions. The Playroom, a software package that introduces letters, numbers, and time to children ages 3 to 6. The Broderbund program is $49.95 for IBM-compatible, Macintosh, or Apple computers. Another nonprofit organization that rates software is the Parents' Choice Foundation. Parents, children, teachers, and other experts select favorite books, toys, video-games, and so on for the Parents' Choice consumer guide. The group's software picks, announced last month, include: McGee at the Fun Fair, a discovery program for children ages 2 to 5. Using a computer mouse, they can go to a playground, listen to a one-person band, watch jugglers, and so on. The package by Lawrence Productions is $39.95. Jungle Safari allows children to rove through wildlife habitats by jeep or boat. When an animal appears, so do various facts about that animal. The $49.00 program by Orange Cherry is for ages 5 to 8. "There's more skill and imagination in these programs than could have been anticipated 10 years or five or even two years ago," says Diana Huss Green, editor-in-chief of Parent's Choice. For example, McGee at the Fun Fair shows slightly different actions each time a child enters a particular activity. That's an idea Mr. Buckleitner calls "smart software." The program knows the child has seen that activity before so it changes itself a little bit.
The Buyer's Guide to Children's Software is available in many libraries. It also can be ordered for $19.95 from High/Scope Press, 600 N. River St., Ypsilanti, MI 48198; (313) 485-2000. A subscription to Parents' Choice costs $15: Parents' Choice Foundation, 1191 Chestnut St., Newton, MA 02164.