Playskool's ION Educational Gaming System taps into youngsters' natural desire to move by designing games where kids dance with the characters from Blues Clues, play soccer goalie with Dora the Explorer, and cook with SpongeBob SquarePants. In addition to encouraging children to sway, wave, squat, dance, and bend to control what happens on the screen of these video games, kids will be learning about colors, following directions, numbers, and letters.
From the kids' perspective, what's so incredible about this system is that it makes them television stars. They aren't just playing the game—they are IN the game as well.
Here's how it works: Parents plug the ION console into their television using the audio/video input ports and then position ION near the TV, facing out. When kids stand in front of their TV, not only will they see characters that they love (Dora, Blue, SpongeBob and others), they will see themselves on the screen inside the video game. For example, in a game with Dora, your child's image will appear inside of a soccer goal. To save goals, your child will need to move his or her hands to various spots inside the goal. While it takes a few tries before kids figure out how moving their hands in the real world transfers to blocking goals inside the game, most learn very quickly. And as a part of the soccer game, Dora will give hints to touch certain colored flags that are tied onto the goal, thus furthering kids' education of colors.
This technology works, in part, because the ION console contains a video camera. The camera takes images of your child and incorporates them into the game when appropriate. The ION uses gesture-sensitive technology to register when and where kids are moving and uses that information to create the game play. For example, in a Simon-says-type activity with Blue, kids will dance when they hear "Boogie" and freeze when they hear "Woogie." The technology can tell if they are moving when they are supposed to be frozen, and the software comments accordingly.
The ION system comes bundled with two special CD-ROM-type discs. One is "SpongeBob SquarePants Best Day Ever," an Active Learning Disc that houses five multi-leveled games woven together in a story about bad guy Plankton trying to steal the famous Krabby Patty recipe. The other disc contains sample activities from other add-on software (sold separately for $15 each), including the Dora and "Blues Clues" games discussed above for children ages 4 and 5, and one featuring characters from LazyTown for kids ages 6 and 7.
Parents of 4- and 5-year-olds might want to bypass one of the SpongeBob SquarePants game called "Krabby Patty Showdown" because, when Plankton loses to SpongeBob, he says, "Curse you SpongeBob." Stick with the Dora and Blue activities until they are old enough to handle this edgier trash talk.
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