Thanks to excellent new software, computers can actually increase both the quality and the quantity of children's social interactions. Here are four ways computers can support emotional development, along with specific software recommendations for each category.
1. Software can facilitate collaboration. Programs that take children on an adventure create an excellent opportunity for diverse groups to work together.
Freddi Fish 4: The Case of the Hogfish Rustlers of Briny Gulch
Working in small groups of two or three, children can explore richly illustrated underwater scenes as they help Freddi Fish and her pal Luther search for a stolen "hogfish." Challenging puzzles, with a Wild West theme, also foster collaboration. For example, to discover the rustlers' identities and locate the hogfish, Freddi and Luther have to find a hat, belt, and other rustler attire scattered around the ocean floor. Keeping track of characters and items is tricky, but children will quickly discover that when solving problems like these, two heads can be better than one. Humongous Entertainment, 800-499-8386; Windows/Mac CD-ROM; $29.95.
2. Software can aid communication. Affordable color printers and a new generation of creativity software give both children and teachers more tools for making contact with others.
My First Greeting Cards
This very simple, fun, and affordable card-making activity makes it easy for young children to create and then print out simple cards for birthdays or major holidays. Edmark, 800-362-2890; Windows/Mac CD-ROM; $9.95
PrintMaster Platinum 7.0
Ages: for teachers
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then consider the value of 150,000 pictures on these 10 Printmaster Platinum CD-ROMs. With this program, adults can quickly create customized and professional-looking newsletters and parent-night invitations, along with interesting and attractive additions to enrich literacy awareness and print on classrooms walls. The library of images, which can be used in a variety of electronic formats, such as e-mail, is also useful for creating Web pages. Mindscape (The Learning Company), 800-234-3088; Windows 95 CD-ROM; $69
3. Software can help children feel good about achievements. Programs in which kids accomplish tasks help boost self-esteem.
Fisher-Price My Very First Little People Play House
Thoughtfully designed for children with developing mouse skills, this CD offers six entertaining and educational games that pose a variety of challenges. To serve snacks to Little People characters, for example, children click the mouse or touch the keyboard and a cupcake or brownie is placed on a plate. Or children can help a puppy clean up by putting toys away. Kids with mouse skills can point and click to make their specific selection in the usual way. Knowledge Adventure, 800-542-4240; Windows/Mac CD-ROM; $20
This playful program stars Huggly, a cute little monster, who is getting ready for a sleepover party. Children visit various rooms in Huggly's house to accumulate what Huggly will need for the party later on. In addition to early learning skills, activities give children a chance to practice social skills. One game, for instance, helps children recognize different moods and emotions, while another provides opportunities for problem-solving with a younger sibling. Once all the games have been played and party objects have been found, it's time for the sleepover! Scholastic New Media, 800-724-4718; Windows/Mac CD-ROM; $14.95
4. Software can help children learn to empathize with others. As children take care of virtual pets, they become aware of some of their own needs and also learn more about the effects their behavior has on others.
Quest for Camelot
Of the seven activities contained in this activity pack, the favorite is hatching and caring for a virtual pet baby dragon (which, thankfully, won't die!). Activities include bottle feeding (you have to "hold" the bottle with the mouse), diaper changing, and nap time. After a period of time, the baby dragon is able to drink from a cup, walk, and even breathe fire. Knowledge Adventure, 800-542-4240; Windows/Mac CD-ROM; $20