By Warren Buckleitner

"I want to play now." "It's my turn." "You're hogging the computer. It's not fair." Probably every teacher has heard these refrains. Sometimes children have a hard time sharing the computer with friends. After all, in most cases, there is only one mouse. However, a number of programs foster cooperation and sharing — and thus promote social development as well. The following are some of the best on the market.

Sesame Street's Music Maker
Ages 3–6: musical sounds, songs
This set of eight activities, which encourages children to gather 'round the computer and sing along with Ernie, Elmo, Grover, and Cookie Monster, is great for group sing-alongs. In one activity, preschoolers can create their own tunes by placing instruments in a sequence of squares and pressing a "play" button. The activities are all open-ended, and the scenes to explore seem endless, offering a nice introduction to music and environmental sounds. Mattel Media, Inc., 888-628-8359;; Windows/Mac; $19.95.

Easy-Bake Kitchen
Ages 3–6: cooperation, following directions
This colorful playset attaches onto your keyboard to turn your computer into a little kitchen, complete with measuring cup, mixer, oven door, and baker's tools. The plastic playset attaches to a Windows-based computer keyboard with an elastic strap. As children manipulate objects on the playset, signals are sent to the computer to make things happen onscreen. There are many opportunities for sharing as players work with the tools to decorate their creations with letters, shapes, and animals. While it's tough to compete with the experience of real, live baking, this playset offers a fun, mess-free alternative that children love to share. Hasbro Interactive, 800-683-5847;; Windows; $39.95.

Blue's Treasure Hunt
Ages 3–6: cooperation, problem solving
This scavenger hunt works well as a shared experience. Children need to help Steve and Blue as they look for treasure somewhere in a house, school, and park. Blue is adorable, as usual, and the program's graphics and animation rival those of the television show. As children travel about, they'll come across activities that involve helping the characters. For instance, they'll recycle trash in a sorting game and gather fall leaves according to color. Items are collected along the way that may prove useful later on. Humongous Entertainment, 800-499-8386;; Windows/ Mac; $29.95.

Fisher-Price Rescue Heroes: Hurricane Havoc
Ages 4–7: cooperation, problem solving
The five activities on this CD-ROM, based on the Fisher-Price Rescue Heroes figures, provide plenty of opportunities for cooperation. As children perform all kinds of heroic tasks — grabbing pets from a burning building, putting out fires by helicopter, and smashing down roadblocks to keep the streets safe — they'll want to consult friends and even take turns ("You be Wendy Waters; I'll be Billy Blazes"). The Learning Company, 800-716-8506;; Windows/Mac; $19.95.

Bear in the Big Blue House: Bear's Sense of Adventure
Ages 3–6: matching, colors
In this program based on the Bear in the Big Blue House television show, players will find an engaging set of activities and adventures — all of which involve helping others and encourage side-by-side play. There are five adventures, which makes the program rich in content. Graphics are great, and among learning concepts touched upon are the five senses, color mixing, and matching by attribute. Knowledge Adventure, 800-542-4240; www.knowledgeadventure. com; Windows/Mac; $30.

Three ways to promote computer sharing:

  1. Think about your room arrangement. The physical location of your computer can influence how it is used. For example, keeping the computer in a central location, rather than an isolated corner, is likely to increase children's socialization. Keep several chairs — not just one — by the computer. Some teachers use an old piano bench (just saw off the legs if they are too high) instead of a single chair so that as many as three children can share the experience.
  2. Watch out for computer hogs. Guess what? Some children will want to dominate the computer! Make sure that all the children in the class are properly introduced to a new computer activity so that there is more than one expert on the new program. As a last resort, you can keep an egg timer near the computer — one with a bell works best. This gives the children a clear signal when their computer time is up.
  3. Choose software carefully. Give two children one tricycle, and you may have a fight on your hands. But give them a wagon, and they'll become best friends. That's because the wagon has two clear roles — you ride, I'll pull. Depending on the software you choose, your classroom computer can be a wagon or a tricycle. It turns out that the best programs for sharing are the ones that give children a way to participate — by singing along, helping to remember a detail, or making a suggestion.

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Warren Buckleitner, a contributing editor to Early Childhood Today and Scholastic Parent & Child, is editor of Children's Software Revue ( All the software he recommends has been tested with young children.