BrainWare Safari 2.0

Company: Learning Enhancements Corp.;
System Requirements: Mac: OS X, 600 MHz processor; PC: Windows 98, Pentium III 600 MHz processor
Price/Grade: $499 (one user)/1-8
Pros: Large variety of brain-building exercises; motivating and challenging games in jungle setting; practice mode option; easy progress tracking
Cons: Preset speed can't be changed; tasks may be difficult for easily frustrated students; some directions are unclear

With so much focus on basic skills, it's easy to forget children must develop and practice the abilities that enable them to interpret and apply information, which are essential for higher-order learning and knowledge acquisition and need to be used to keep the brain fit.

That's where BrainWare Safari weighs in. Accompanied by a Safari Friend, players navigate through 20 multilevel adventures encompassing 41 cognitive skills including sequencing, auditory/visual processing, short-term and working memory, directionality, sensorimotor integration, and logic. Exercises with video game-like formats keep kids on a healthy regime of brain calisthenics as they jungle hop to hot spots like Bear Shuffle, where cards are shown face up and face down and players click and drag them into a specific order.

Directions are read or listened to, and exercises have a practice option to help learn the game. For added independence, students can check their answers and track their progress back at the log in area (the Safari Corral).

BrainWare is best for independent workers with good attention spans and strong working memories who enjoy being challenged, but it could thwart those who don't. There are often multistep directions, which can be a challenge, and there are no hints for when players get stuck. Also, many games require multitasking, such as tapping a beat and recalling colors that flash by on a Tic-Tac-Toe board.

Another potential drawback is that game speed is preset, which might discourage students as games get more difficult. Exercising the brain is hard work, however. Those who persevere will likely see benefits extending beyond the classroom.

Jamie Keller is an educational therapist and teacher in Berkeley, California.