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Your Kids and Computers: Crayola Software Not for Girls Only

reprinted from Chicago Sun-Times; September 23, 1997

by Don Crabb

To be perfectly honest, I was not initially comfortable with the pedagogy defined by IBM's new Crayola Magic Wardrobe software. You see, IBM claims that the software is designed to "educate and entertain girls ages 6 to 12."

It's not that that's an invalid goal, it's just that when I see such claims I immediately worry as to just what the software designers believe "young girls" ought to be taught, as if software for them should somehow be dumbed-down, or only focus on "girlish activities," whatever those might be.

After spending some time with Crayola Magic Wardrobe, though, I can see that my pedagogical hackles had been needlessly raised. While the software does take a traditional approach to activities for young girls (arts and crafts, dolls, fashion and diaries), it provides an historical framework for its exploration that is content-rich and without jarring sexual stereotypes.

In fact, while your young daughters will likely find many of the creative activities more to their sensibilities, there are sound reasons why Crayola Magic Wardrobe would be quite suitable for your young sons, as well.

According to IBM's Susan Gluck, "Families interested in providing their daughters with enriching, educational software programs are finding few such programs exist. With Crayola Magic Wardrobe, IBM had created a stimulating educational product that is based on girls' favorite activities, ensuring that it is consistent with their needs and interests."

The primary activities include a time travel segment, where your kids can design custom outfits for a paper doll using authentic clothing and accessories from one of 12 historical periods (from ancient Egypt to imperial China, to Elizabethan England, the American Navajos, and the 1960s hippies and flower children); an arts and crafts segment that includes personal diaries your kids will want to read and write; and a set of creative learning activities tied to improving reading comprehension and creative writing skills.

To emphasize the female approach to this software, the historical segments feature news profiles on famous women in history (which is another good reason why your young sons ought to be exposed to this software--as it will help breakdown silly gender misconceptions).

The diary segment allows your kids to write their own diaries and letters on period stationery that they design, while reading period diaries from other young girls.

Given its name, you'd expect Crayola Magic Wardrobe would include some serious coloring, design, and painting tools. And you'd be right. The program lets you color and decorate in any of the 72 Crayola crayon colors, and use any of the 84 special decorations to adorn clothing under design.

The program comes on a CD-ROM and runs on a Mac or Windows PC. You'll need at least a 486DX 66Mhz PC or a 68040 based Mac, plus a CD-ROM drive and color monitor. Priced at $29.95, you'll find Crayola Magic Wardrobe at many area computer stores (I found it at Best Buy, Computer City, and Elek-Tek).

Crabb's Bottom Line: Crayola Magic Wardrobe. The Goods: Educates and entertains girls ages 6 to 12. Rating: 9. Vendor: IBM. Platforms: Mac OS and Windows PC, CD-ROM required. Contact: (800) 835-6881. Street Price: $29.95. Ages: Girls ages 6 to 12. In Short: "Give your young girls creative software designed especially for them."

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