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Help Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto and Goofy get out of the spooky mansion in this Disney Learning Adventure, Search for the Secret Keys. Friendly (although a bit grumpy) ghosts Shakey, Quakey and Clyde guide players through a variety of problem solving puzzles. By completing these activities, users earn the six keys needed to unlock the front door of the house, allowing the Disney gang to be on their way. Players explore the mansion (basement, library, organ room, armor hall, picture gallery and sitting room) at will, clicking on objects to trigger the learning games.
Search for the Secret Keys drills a variety of concepts including object recognition, word building, spelling, alphabetizing, reading for context, word associations, number recognition, basic addition and subtraction, spatial relationships, visual planning, written music and keyboarding. The program is marketed for children ages five and older; however, several of the activities related to language acquisition (letter recognition, alphabetical order) would certainly be appropriate for younger children. In fact, the literacy based learning games run the gamut from identifying the first letter of a noun based on its picture to reading such words as “carefully”. This makes it difficult for many kids to use without a little help from nearby adults. There is, however, a Tutorial Ghost, who uses his haunted chalkboard to help players in need of assistance with the activities.
Puzzles include reassembling suits of armor so that all representations of a number (the digit, the same number of dots, the sum of an addition problem or the difference of a subtraction problem) are together, using a variety of pipe pieces to connect the leaky pipes in the basement, following color-coded musical notation and pressing the appropriate keys on the organ keyboard, alphabetizing books in the study by a single letter and then by a second letter, filling in missing letters in words and missing words in sentences in the picture gallery, and recognizing rhyming words and opposites to repair the gears in the grandfather clock.
The familiar Disney characters certainly give Search for the Secret Keys a head start in appealing to a large audience, while the mystery of the spooky house lends a sense of intrigue to the quest. Although the picture gallery puzzle is not entirely developmentally consistent with the other activities, players are at least assisted by a narrator who reads the words and sentences aloud. Parents may also appreciate the Progress Chart, which shows how well kids performed each skill at each of the three levels of difficulty. The program seems best suited to use at home as much of the program consists of animated sequences, which may not be the most effective use of valuable class time.
Search for the Secret Keys is very easy to install and uninstall, and program navigation is entirely controlled with the mouse (not Mickey). Click-happy kids will have no trouble finding the puzzles to solve. Although the program is fairly straightforward, it is also accompanied by an eManual.
While Search for the Secret Keys is certainly effective in its goal to provide some valuable critical thinking and problem solving activities, it lacks pizzazz. It would be most enjoyed by Disney fans in preschool, kindergarten and possibly first grade.
PC: Windows 95/98/Me/XP, Pentium 233 MHz processor, 64 MB of RAM, 16-bit DirectX-compatible video card, 16-bit DirectX-compatible sound card, 8x CD-ROM, 80 MB hard disk space .return to top of page
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