By peoplestaff225
Updated December 03, 2008 07:00 AM

Several weeks ago I received a huge wake-up call when I received our son’s kindergarten registration forms in the mail. Once I was able to wrap my brain around the idea that I’m actually old enough to have a child in kindergarten, I found myself asking a more important question — is he really ready for this? I’ve never been one to run learning drills with my kids, but immediately I felt the urge to whip out some flash cards and get down to business! There is a much cooler option in Fisher-Price’s Computer Cool School ($60), however. A complete learning system, the Cool School not only gets your preschooler familiar with the ins and outs of basic computer use, it offers lessons on the hallmarks of kindergarten life: reading/writing, math, science, music, and art.

Getting the Cool School up and running was a snap. Simply install the software on your computer’s hard drive via CD-ROM, and connect the keyboard with the included USB cable. During this initial set-up, you’ll want to choose the settings for things like volume, because once the toy is in use those things are no longer adjustable. It’s also the time to pick your password; the Cool School has not only made it possible to block your kids from navigating themselves (accidentally or not!) onto the Internet, it also has safeguards in place to prevent inadvertent damage to your hard drive. From beginning to end, it took us about 10 minutes for set-up.

Click ‘more’ to read about our favorite Cool School ‘center.’

The Computer Cool School comes with a ‘Leo’s Classroom’ CD, but there are add-on software programs ($15) you can purchase separately — Clifford, Sesame Street and Dora The Explorer/Diego for 3 to 5-year-olds, and Spongebob Squarepants and Scooby Doo for 4 to 6-year-olds. If you’re not ready to purchase any add-ons, however, and you’re just looking to get started the five centers for Leo’s Classroom offer the following: (1) Reading and writing teaches letter recognition, vocabulary and spelling, writing letters and numbers using a tablet and stylus and phonics, (2) Math teaches numbers, along with counting, shapes, addition and math symbols, (3) Art teaches colors, lines, patters, drawing and stamp art, (4) Music teaches instruments, rhythm and tempo, notes and scale, and (5) Science teaches about the various habitats of the world, animal and plant facts, and more.

Navigating between the centers is really easy for a preschooler; Just push the big circular button at the top of the keyboard to choose which area you’d like to work in. With over 100 printable, supplemental worksheet activities, the learning can continue when you’re away from your computer. We’ve also taken advantage of this feature to help Owen grasp the concept of ‘homework,’ i.e., you learn something new and then you practice it later. You can also print out reward certificates, which our son loves to hang on the fridge. The art center is by far and away his favorite place to visit; he can spend upwards of an hour drawing and painting, and we can then save and print his artwork. While the tablet and stylus take some getting used to and were initially a source of frustration for him, he had it mastered in a day or two.

We’ve really enjoyed the Computer Cool School and have seen a definite, marked increase in his eagerness to explore new kindergarten-level concepts. At 4 ½, some areas (counting, letter recognition) serve as more of a reinforcement for him than others, but there’s more than enough information in play to keep his interest. In a few months, we plan to add on with one of the 4 to 6-year-old CDs to really keep his momentum going. I also love the safe, kid-friendly introduction to a computer — something that in this day and age, for better or worse, is probably better to teach sooner rather than later.

— Missy