The ClickStart system comes in two parts. The software is housed in a small (8 by 7 inches) console unit that plugs into the TV via the A/V ports and requires four AAA batteries. This console unit communicates via infrared technology to a colorful, wireless QUERTY keyboard and mouse unit that needs 4 AA batteries. The keyboard looks like Scout the Dog, the main character in the learning games. The mouse is permanently attached to the keyboard via a cord; and it works on a mousepad, which parents can attach on the left or right side of the keyboard.
When you turn on both the TV and ClickStart console, a desktop appears with five icons for preloaded activities. While preschoolers and kindergarteners play games that teach math and early-reading skills, they are also learning the computer skills of using the mouse and keyboard.
Two of the games are offered on two levels of difficulty, roughly corresponding to ages 3-4 and 5-6. The software can keep track of up to three children, and it returns them to wherever they stopped in a game.
Some of the activities use the keyboard for navigation, while others require use of the mouse. For example, with the ABC Tree game, kids use the keyboard to dislodge fruit from a tree so that Scout can collect it. On level 1, kids make the fruit fall by tapping any key on the keyboard. They will see and hear the name of the letter as the fruit falls. On level 2, the pieces of fruit already have letters on them. The object is for kids to tap the letters as they flash, resulting in the spelling of words.
Using mouse navigation, the 1-2-3-Click game asks kids to click on specific colored balls as they move on and off of the screen. When clicked, the balls splatter colored paint on the screen, an activity that young children love. There is an additional typing game, and activities that involve visiting foreign countries and playing with Scout in his interactive doghouse.
The mouse is downsized to fit little hands and is pretty responsive to the infrared technology. However, little children will have trouble keeping it on the tiny, slippery mouse pad.
All five activities are fun and age appropriate. The game content gets progressively harder as kids master the concepts introduced; and each contains a good help system which automatically appears when kids are struggling. The ability to add additional software assures the longevity of the system. Add-on software featuring Dora the Explorer, Disney's Nemo, Thomas the Tank Engine, and the Toy Story characters is available for $20 each. There is also an Animal Art Studio and a Learning Carnival.
This is an inexpensive way to duplicate the computer experience without having to worry about young children corrupting adult files or ruining an expensive keyboard and mouse.
All tech products are judged on a five star scale by looking at the following factors: fun, education, ease of use, value, and technical.