"Mom, the chickens are singing Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy!'" Ever since this software hit our house, the line at the computer has never been longer. Our children, ages 4, 9, and 12, love playing with the four activity areas discussed here. Each is easy to explore and packed with fun to keep kids playing all afternoon. Big Top claims that they made Hello Kitty with girls in mind, but the boys coming in and out of our house enjoyed it just as much.
Big Fun Piano: Eight-year-old Josh found this activity "awesome." It features a keyboard; singing animals (yes, the sheep baa their way through "Ode," too); 18 different songs; and three learning levels. Click the Learn button and Hello Kitty teaches you to play the song you select, first in phrases, then in its entirety. Animals pop out to cheer you on as you learn. The Record and Play buttons allow you to record your own music and play it back.
Big Fun Storymaking: The first time she sat down with this, 4-year-old Maggie played with the two "fill in the blank" stories for over an hour. In "Hello Kitty's Adventure," the child chooses where Kitty goes, how she gets there, and what she does. In "Hello Kitty's Stew Story," the child chooses which vegetables are picked from the garden, what other ingredients go into the stew (one choice is tofu!), who is invited to dinner, and so on. The animation is detailed and sound effects are everywhere. When Maggie finished, she printed out her versions of the stories.
Big Fun Shapes and Numbers: Maggie moved quickly through the three ability levels that teach shape recognition. For example, the first level had her choose a color or a shape, while the third had her locate a colored shape within a drawing. "Big Fun Numbers" has three ability levels, too. Level one is simple counting along with a narrator. Level two teaches basic addition and subtraction. Level three integrated complex addition, subtraction, and keyboard skills. Although Maggie enjoyed playing with shapes and simple number recognition games, my 8-year -old and his friends thought it was the least fun activity.
Big Fun Art: This was a big hit with all the kids. It offers the child a scrapbook with a choice of predrawn Hello Kitty canvases or a blank canvas. There are a variety of colors, crayon sizes, and over 225 designs whose sizes can be changed. The scrapbook can save about 54 pictures, and if you click the projector icon, it acts like a slide projector to display the pictures in your scrapbook. The images can be printed out in black-and-white outlines.
Twelve-year-old Laura liked playing with it, but commented that coloring within the lines of the preprinted pictures was tricky even for her.
Big Top Productions has called Hello Kitty "first in a series of interactive titles to address gender bias issues head on,...filling a void in the market for educational software products that appeal to girls and boys equally." They've stated their commitment to producing nonviolent, fun "edutainment." Parents who are concerned about these issues may do well to watch for other Big Top titles to come.

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