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Kids software that delights and educates

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For the ideal children's gift that doesn't end up in the back of the closet, consider educational computer software. Quality programs with a strong learning component allow kids to learn and improve their skills while having a great time. The best software not only engages again and again but can grow with the user's skills.

So skip the point-and-shoots and arcade-style games and take a look at the following notable offerings (most retail between $20 and $30) from the past year:

Jumpstart Toddlers (Ages 18 months to 3 years). It's debatable whether children under the age of 2 or 3 have much business at the computer at all, but for those inclined to test the waters, Jumpstart's popular series has a new version of their toddler program. Children can join DeeDee the Duck on her trip upriver, exploring numbers, colors, shapes, and letters along the way. There is a lot of music, which is quite engaging, and the colors and graphics are vibrant. The technology is set to allow for activity changes just by moving the cursor over an area, making it especially easy for tiny hands unfamiliar with clicking a mouse.

Blue's 123 Time Activities (Ages 3 to 6). This is a fun, very simple, math-oriented program that complements last year's best-selling Blue's ABC Time Activities. In this one, Blue goes to the Backyard Fair, where she and her friends explore number, shape, and pattern recognition, prediction and estimation, even counting and spending money, all in the guise of games.

There's also Blue's Treasure Hunt Adventure, in which preschoolers help Steve search for a series of treasure hunt scrolls leading to keys to the Land of Great Discovery.

Freddi Fish 4: The Case of the Hogfish Rustlers of Briny Gulch (Ages 3 to 8). Freddi Fish fans will be thrilled to note that the popular series has added another adventure. As players navigate through a colorful and lively underwater world, they discover clues and collect tools to help release Calico Catfish's kidnapped prize-winning hogfish. It's standard Freddi Fish fare that experienced young players will enjoy right away.

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