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"Where are the kids?" I was asked recently.
"Playing in the Kitchen", was my response.
"Who's in there with them?"
"Just the dog. But don't worry, he'll clean up any mess they make."
"What! Are you nuts?"
"Don't worry, they're playing in a virtual kitchen."
"Yea, on your computer. Someone's in the Kitchen on your computer."
"What! Are you nuts? All alone? Who knows what they're into and deleting by now!"
And so it went. And yes, the dog cleans the whole kitchen in less than 30 seconds!
The kids were playing Someone's in the Kitchen from DreamWorks Interactive. Riveted to the screen as they were, I saw no reason to interfere in any way with the fun they were having. We went over the material printed with the CD, which covers things like safety in a real kitchen and the proper feeding of pets, this last included only because all of the creations in the kitchen are fed to Taste Test Four, the dog, to see if he likes them or not. This done we all started exploring what this kitchen has to offer.
Taste Test Four, Blendolini, Mother Chill, Toby the Toaster and many other zany characters are the stars in this totally interactive and totally fun virtual kitchen. Inspired by Stephen Spielberg, the concept is geared to teaching children aged 4-7 the basics of cooking in the kitchen. Never has the kitchen looked so good. This is a totally safe and fun way of discovering some of the quick and easy things that children can do for themselves in the kitchen.
Music is a part of everything that happens. Right from the start, the characters that make up this kitchen activity center sing, are funny and entertaining. Entering his or her name, age and birthday gives a child an immediate interest in this program by making interaction seem personal. This also serves to keep track of the children's birthdays in the calendar that hangs in the kitchen and keep track of any creations the child makes. This done, there are almost 300 different "hot spots" that can be clicked for a song or an action to keep children and adults riveted to the screen for hours at a time. The main activity screen features over 60 animated skits with four focus areas that feature the appliances close up. Explanations of their uses and functions are provided in a fun and playful way that is sure to appeal to all children. If selected, each appliance will either sing a song, or play out an animated skit.
The calendar hanging on the cupboard features all the holidays and special days in a month including children's birthdays. Click on the child's birthday and the program calculates how old the child will be on that birthday. All the holidays are listed, from presidents' birthdays to the big ones like Christmas, Hanukkah and Valentine's Day. Many cultures are represented in the variety of holidays and an explanation of each holiday provides an historical outlook into where they started and why.
Clicking on the Cook Book activates the "Cooking Project" mode where children can try out any of 28 different original recipes including such things as Vanilla Ice Cream with Chocolate Chips, Ice Cream Pie, Very Veggie Soup, Tacos and a Cheese, mushroom and onion omelet. All the recipes in this cook book have been previously tested and are safe, easy and fun for children to make in a real kitchen. Choose from Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Dessert, Discoveries and Creations. The Discoveries are not active until the child "discovers" how to make them in the Mix And Match mode. Creations is where a child's creations, made in the Mix And Match mode of the kitchen, are stored. Each child's creations are saved under their name and a handy trash-can is provided for those recipes that no longer appeal or that are just a little too strange to be any good. Any of the recipes can be printed and include a list of ingredients, a list of items needed to make the recipe and the recipe itself. One of the characters from the kitchen is also included on the print-out in outline for the children to color-in if they so choose.
Once a recipe is chosen, the fun starts as all the ingredients are displayed each step is explained and animated. A chef assistant is always present to give audio clues for each step. Once the recipe is complete, it is fed to Taste Test for an opinion. If the food is good, he'll dance around or sing. If not, he'll play dead or something similar.
Clicking on the apron activates the Mix and Match mode. This is where the real fun is in this kitchen. Once picked, a song is followed by instructions to pick a character to play with. Select from Toby the Toaster, Blendolini the blender or Nuke the microwave. From there a trip to Mother Chill the refrigerator is required to get supplies for the creation. Supplies from the refrigerator or the pantry are put into a shopping bag and taken back to the chosen appliance. All the ingredients can then be put together in any way and when its done, fed to Taste Test Four who will let you know if the creation was good or not. The recipe can then be saved in the cook book and printed it out later to try in the real kitchen. If a child happened to hit upon the save ingredients or recipe for one of the items found in the Discoveries section of the cookbook, it then becomes active and can be used just like any other recipe.
Installation and removal of the program is easy and complete. This software will take up 20 MB of hard-disk space once installed. The CD needs to be in the drive in order to play this game. The CD also has fourteen audio tracks that can be played on a stereo system, just be sure to skip track one as this is a data track and the static might damage your stereo system. Be sure to view the Readme.txt file that installs with this software for installation tips and troubleshooting help.
Just for the record, the kids were too busy playing the game to bother with anything else on the computer and no files were deleted. The "kids" consisted of two six year old twins and a four year old, all boys. The only point of frustration was met with the "hot spots". It was not always clear to them what they could do and when. From the full kitchen mode, one has to pick either the apron or the cook book in order to play with a character, and in Mix and Match mode, one has only three choices as listed above. The children also wanted to be able to play with the dishwasher, the sink, the stove or the refrigerator. Even after explaining that these things were off limits to them in a real kitchen which was why the could not play with them in the game, the frustration remained. Also, the children quickly tired of the songs and found them an obstacle to moving on with the actual activities. Once a song starts, one has to click the screen once to stop it, then wait for the program to be ready for further instructions. The attention span of most children these days tends to be short and the delays were the only major downside. The children all loved the game, the characters, especially Taste Test. They enjoyed making recipes and liked the idea of being able to save them for later. They certainly asked to play with it every chance they could get.
Written by Glenn Soucy
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