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The Bottom Line
An excellent preschool learning service that tracks your child's performance and offers new material when they are ready for it.
Two years in the making, this new PBS destination for preschoolers was built from scratch and aligns the content to national learning standards. The result is a robust learning environment that caters to your child's individual learning needs and changes weekly.

Many people associate free quality educational content with the PBS Kids brand, but because this new service is personalized and the equivalent of delivering educational children's software, it is offered as a subscription costing $9.95 a month or $79 a year.
"All of the subscription fees for PBS KIDS PLAY! are funneled back into PBS KIDS programming for families, including adding new content weekly to PBS KIDS PLAY!" says Benjamin Grimley, PBS' Senior Director of Interactive Businesses. Parents can try it before they buy it by downloading the 15-day free trial at www.PBSKidsPlay.org.

When you download the service, it can track the play of up to four children. Kids start in their Home Room, a customizable virtual room that serves as the base for all the activities offered in the program. This is where art projects created in this world will show up for display, and prizes won will appear. Kids will also meet Dash, the kid-mascot of this service, who is always available to provide help.
While there are many ways to find the learning activities, the easiest is to click through the round purple portal that leads to five different neighborhoods: Mama Mirabelle's Home Movies, Franny's Feet, Mister Roger's Neighborhood, Curious George, and The Berenstain Bears. Four new neighborhoods will be added before year's end, including Bob the Builder, Thomas & Friends, Super Why.

At launch on March 18, 2008, there were 14 different learning activities. The games can be played on three levels, and are self-leveling so that they only become harder when the child has mastered the content on the level offered. When children complete a level, they will earn a reward that appears in their Home Room.
An example of a learning activity is Savanna Hide & Seek in Mama Mirabelle's world. During the game, animals hide in the African savanna. Children are asked to find animals using directional hints such as "in front of the hill" or "behind the rock." As the levels increase, more animals are hidden in the scene.

In addition to learning activities, the service also provides a library of ad-free learning videos which feature such childhood favorites as Curious George, The Berenstain Bears, and other PBS licensees. Kids can also do art projects, including making postcards with Franny or painting with Mirabelle. These projects automatically save and show up in your Home Room.

With new content added every week, this service gives preschoolers plenty to explore. This bright, colorful world is very easy for preschoolers to navigate with voice-over commands for every button. Kids can bookmark favorite activities and then access them from many locations, including a virtual backpack. The learning engine behind the service keeps track of the child's progress and has characters from the different worlds make recommendations about what to play next,
The service also offers parents many options in the Parents Section. They can track their children's progress, discover what is available, and learn about how the activities track the nationally recognized McREL (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning) standards . The service will make recommendations to parents about what their child should explore next. The content is divided into seven core areas (math, science, language, literacy, creativity, healthy development, and social studies), and parents can search by area to find activities that would be appropriate. Parents can also set a timer, so that kids don't get too much screen time. And the service provides many printables, so that kids can continue the play away from the computer.

PBS KIDS PLAY! is similar to the also excellent Playhouse Disney Preschool Time Online, but it's more educational. If your kids love the PBS Kids' characters, this is a great way to let their favorite characters teach them through interactive educational games.

All tech products are judged on a five star scale by looking at the following factors: fun, education, ease of use, value, and technical.

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Company: PBS
Price: 9.95