Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Sesame Street: First Steps

Sesame Street: First Steps

Spring 2008 Software
Ages: 1 - 3 yrs.
Producer: Sesame Workshop
Price: $17.99
School Use Price: $17.99
Platform: Windows/MAC
For several years, Sesame Workshop has been working to turn electronic media into a conduit for playful interactions between parents and their children. This new software title is the latest product to stress that approach. By asking parents to work with their kids at the computer - such as taking control of the mouse while the child presses keys on the keyboard -- First Steps seems to recognize that it is a parents' words and actions, prompted by what is on screen, that have the most impact.

But like all computer games for children too young to play independently, the software does beg the question: If a parent has the time to sit with a toddler at a keyboard, would the time be better spent with toys that the child can pick up and handle?

First Steps works hard to be age-appropriate. It does a good job of matching activities to a child's abilities in their toddler years. One game, for example, lets children press on any key they want to make animal sounds. When the key is pressed, a sheep goes "baahh" and moves around - a response that delights children as young as 18-months old.

Another game works as an introduction to recognizing the shapes of letters and numerals. During a demonstration, a 25-month old boy who has started to become good at recognizing different letters announced that he wanted to play "Zezzers!" when his mom noted that there was a "Letters and Numbers" game. Big Bird appeared on the screen. "Press the keys on the keyboard to play with numbers," Big Bird beckoned. But the boy just sat there for several seconds before getting a nudge from his mother, who repeated Big Bird's words. He pressed a number and a big white '1" appeared, along with a lone baseball. The boy smiled and pressed another key, as if he suddenly realized what he was supposed to do. A big 5 appeared, followed by five crayons of multiple colors. "Did you make five crayons appear?" his mother said in bright tones, encouraging him with a little squeeze. Soon the boy was clapping and saying "wow," whenever he discovered that he could make something move, appear, or disappear on screen.

If you choose to play First Steps with your children, use it judiciously. On a cold rainy day, when a parent has run out of ideas for play, software like this can prompt rich interactions. But child development experts (and Parents' Choice as well) urge parents to use such software as an occasional alternative to, but not a replacement for the toys in the toybox, the pans in the cupboard or the pebbles in the driveway outside.

Lisa Guernsey   ©2008 Parents' Choice
Author of Into the Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Affects Children From Birth to Age 5 (Basic Books, Sept 2007)

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