A dults are well catered for in the field of word processors and DTP, but there is little around aimed specifically at children. What programs there are tend to be cut-down versions of more mature offerings which, while simple to use, do not really grab a child's imagination. Kidstype is the first such package which my own primary-age children are actually keen to use.
Roger Wharmby, the author, appears to have started from the concept of an easy-to-use pattern creation program, and then modified it to deal with typed-text too. The result is little short of astounding.
Several options are instantly available. The first real attraction for the child is the opportunity to select illustrated letters from the border and use them to make words. Harder work, and therefore slightly less appealing is the option to type text from the keyboard, but children soon realise that by mixing the two styles they can soon produce visually attractive screens.
In addition to illustrated letters, several sets of coloured patterns are available which allow colour and text to be splashed around the screen. To adult eyes the effect and their enjoyment encourages experimentation with the keyboard.
When typing plain text a child is often stuck for the correct spelling. For younger children Kidstype incorporates a 'prompt' command which is selected simply by clicking. This brings up a list of around 100 words suitable for infant reading age: several for each letter of the alphabet. Clicking on a word drops it into the text screen in a similar manner to adult spell checkers.
The word list can be altered to contain up to 100 of your own choice of words - handy if a child has a 'block' about certain spellings. The option provides a short-cut to avoid literary flow drying up due to uncertainty of spelling - a common problem with children are trying to cope with both the mechanics and the creativity of composing prose.
No package for children is complete without an element of gameplay and Kidstype's method is, while not novel, fitting for the program. Each letter of the alphabet is shown in cameo on the top border and the game involves choosing each letter (in any order) then trying to spell the name of the pictured object.
This is not as easy as it sounds, since some of the pictures are well nigh unidentifiable: but, as with the word list, the pictures can be modified using a paint package. With some imagination on the part of an adult this could result in a picture-letter set comprising of mathematical shapes, parts of the body and so on - the scope is vast.
Pictures and words
The pull-down menus are unusual too. Instead of terse text options which often demand lateral thinking from the user, each option is copiously illustrated. Even young children cope easily when offered a graphical clue - adults too, sometimes!
A lovely touch is the speech option. Simply select various combinations from the menu and screen to have the computer recite text, sound out a letter on typing or pronounce an individual word or letter from the screen. This option is excellent for children with reading or spelling difficulties since they can check that the word or letter typed sounds like they think it does. As a confidence builder and an encouragement to experiment it is probably the most useful features of the package.
I certainly have no hesitation in recommending this package to anyone who has pre-school children, especially because it is likely to remain in use right through to their senior school.