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How to Choose The Right Kids’ Software

November 21, 1995

Tips for buying children’s software:

_ Choose appropriate programs. Sounds obvious enough, but there’s a lot more to it. Software should satisfy the three L’s: learning, looks and longevity. For instance, the product should fit a child’s developmental needs and interests and have such a distinctive look and feel that he or she will want to play with it over and over again.

_ Pick PC-compatible programs. Most software packages have detailed information on system requirements, like necessary hard drive space and available memory or whether a sound card is needed. Jot down your personal computer’s specs and take it along while shopping.

_ Check out brand names. Just because a program comes from a big-name publisher doesn’t always mean it’s going to be good, but chances are better than average it won’t be a turkey. Several companies have proven track records in children’s software, like Davidson, Edmark, Broderbund and Maxis, to name a few.

_ Avoid big discounts. The old adage, ``you get what you pay for,″ is especially true in software. Resist the temptation to buy deeply discounted programs since there’s probably a good reason for the markdown: They’re awful, and therefore can’t sell at regular prices. Packages that offer up to 10 CD-ROM discs for a low price also are suspect.

_ Take a test drive. Some publishers have demo CDs and floppy disks available for the asking. Computerized software catalogs, like the ones published by distributor KidSoft Inc. in Los Gatos, Calif., also include program sampling. In addition, some stores let customers try out software before buying and often allow boxed programs to be returned within 30 days if unsatisfied.

_ Consult the experts. Magazine such as Family PC and PC World frequently review software. There are also organizations like the Computer Museum in Boston that offer helpful buying tips. Some good resources: ``The Computer Museum Guide to the Best Software for Kids,″ by HarperPerennial; ``Parent’s Guide to Children’s Software ’96,″ CD and book by Newsweek; and ``That’s Edutainment,″ by McGraw-Hill.

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