Kids clamoring for new computer games? Check out these educational picks from our children's software expert.


With good software, children perceive that they are playing and having fun, when in reality, they are learning as they play. Here are a few that strike the perfect balance.

TODDLERS-KINDERGARTEN
I Spy Junior: Puppet Playhouse
Modeled after the beloved I Spy books, these games ask children to search for answers to a series of rhyming riddles and, in the process, practice learning skills like prereading, storytelling, rhyming, and visual discrimination. Scholastic, ages 3-5, $20.

Clifford Thinking Adventures
Clifford The Big Red Dog leads young children on a series of adventures as they help plan his gigantic birthday party, while exploring 18 different learning activities. Scholastic, ages 4-6, $20.

ELEMENTARY AGE
Pajama Sam Series
Pajama Sam is, hands down, the best pint-sized superhero in children’s software. He tackles childhood fears such as darkness and thunder and lightning, and by the end, the fears are no longer scary. These titles expand a child’s ability to be a creative problem-solver. Humongous, ages 3-8, $10 to $20.

Cluefinders Series
All six titles star a group of four brainy junior detectives known as the Cluefinders. Each game is a mystery that combines the excitement of an Indiana Jones-type adventure with fun and interesting academic games. The Learning Company, ages 8-12, $25.

MIDDLE GRADERS
RollerCoaster Tycoon
This amusement-park simulation holds great appeal for kids because they create and design their own dream park. As they do loop-the-loops in their chairs, they also learn about the economics of running a successful business. Infogrames, ages 10-up, $30.

Nancy Drew: Message in a Haunted Mansion
In this role-playing software, players take on the persona of literary supersleuth Nancy Drew to solve the mystery of why the mansion seems to be “haunted.” Players have to solve a variety of puzzles and use
intense logical thinking to crack this case. Her Interactive, ages 10-up, $25.