The Reading Matrix
Vol. 2, No. 1, April 2002

Zurk's Rainforest Lab 2.2
Reviewed by Enzo Ferrara


Zurk's Rainforest Lab 2.2


SOLEIL's Order Desk, 3853 Grove Court, Palo Alto (Ca) 94303

To order: 1-800-501-0110 (from US only) or 650-494-0114


Windows 95/98 or NT version 4.0, 2000* or later, or Macintosh

Minimum hardware requirements: for PC

A PC with 386SX:25MHz or better processor
Microsoft Windows 3.1 or later
Quick Time for Windows (included)
8 MB of RAM SVGA graphics card (640x480x256 colors minimum) with compatible monitor MPC-compatible
CD-ROM drive
Sound Blaster card or 100% compatible; stereo speakers or headphones

Minimum hardware requirements: for Macintosh A Macinstosh with a 68030 processor or newer
640x480 (13") or larger color monitor
CD-ROM drive
OS 7.0 or higher
Quick Time for Macintosh (included)
5 MB of RAM

Three Demos are available on the CD for the other titles of the collection: WorldWalker: Destination Australia (ages 8 to 12), Zurk's Alaskan Trek (ages 6 to10), Zurk's Learning Safari (ages 3 to 6).

This is the trilingual version of Zurk's Rainforest Lab. Spanish, French and English variants have been provided on the same CD, but German and Japanese are also available. All text, voices and narration can easily be switched on the fly between the different languages. The main purpose of this program is to offer the possibility to learn languages while playing with the computer. The product is aimed to pupils in ages from 5 to 9 and, in the authors' intent, the software has to stimulate the interdisciplinary thematic approach also in life science, math, literacy and critical thinking. A resource guide notebook is included.

Different play activities are available. Starting from "The Market Place" or "Mercado" that is the main menu, children can move toward five different scenarios. "Egghunt" lets the player wander in the jungle environment over three screens connected by a ladder with Nita the margay, searching out eggs and collecting them in a basket. "Jungle Discovery" presents the possibility to meet 50 different animals and plant life. Along this path you have an accessible text box. It is possible to have the text box disappear. On finding new animals, the text associated with a new animal appears; one can hear the animal's name or hear the text aloud. "Photo Album" offers a virtual camera to freeze animals' images and record comments with a written text. "Seek & Sort" helps in learning how animals can be identified and categorized according to their different classes. In "Pattern Puzzles" early geometrical figures can be dragged, and have to be correctly rotated, into a puzzled area to fill; three difficult set levels of four puzzles exist, along with the possibility for children to create their own composed pictures.

The software offers alternative activities, always retaining the children's game aspect, and is useful to introduce children to the wonder and variety of the jungle's world. Students could be encouraged by fun and discovery to return sometime in front of this program. Additionally, they can take advantage of the multiple challenge levels to interact in a fresh way with each of the proposed activities.

Zurk's Rainforest Lab is easy for teachers and friendly for students. It is probably able to immediately engage younger children with its charming cartoon character and watercolor graphics and original music with a Latin beat. Background and characters add to the story a book atmosphere. The characters talk directly to the children.

The full offer of SOLEIL in the Teacher's Version includes "Worldwalker", "Zurk's Alaskan Trek", "Zurk's Rainforest Lab" and "Zurk's Learning Safari." The full pack price of $124.95 is not inexpensive if the standard level for other programs matches that of Zurk's Rainforest Lab. The price for each single program is $44.95. This would be quite economical if at least two among the products were included.

In Zurk's Rainforest Lab it is only possible to move from the central screen to the other scenarios and vice versa. Unfortunately there is no on-screen help. However, this is not a major failing thanks to the extreme simplicity of the program and its operative requirements. Within the documentation contained in the software package there is a useful 42-page manual rich in suggestions on how to organize additional activities after the presentation of Zurk's Activities to the audience of children. For language learning, but also for the other learning objectives of the software (reading, math, literacy, science and art) a short glossary and an exhaustive list of resources and book references are included. Suggestions appear appropriate to optimize the program exploitation as well as to pursue study on rainforest wildlife. Information on how to get technical support from Soleil if things go wrong is included in the manual, along with a two page troubleshooting guide for the most common settling errors while installing software (memory, file compressors, video display drivers, peripherals).

In closing, Zurk's Rainforest Lab can not be the only basis onto which any learning project can be built. Teachers have to follow and sustain the play-work. More convenient would be to use the program as the occasional additional aid to vary the lesson's mood and to make profit of the multifaceted opportunities given by multimedia systems. The reviewer recommends Zurk's Rainforest Lab to be addressed as an alternative teaching method toward younger students, 5 to 7 years old. The reader is cautioned not to assume that accessing several consecutive lessons of this program is recommended or useful for the class audience.
































Dr. Enzo Ferrara, Researcher in Chemistry and Materials Science, Istituto Elettrotecnico Nazionale Galileo Ferraris, e-mail:, Strada delle Cacce, 91 - 10135 Torino, Italy. tel. + 39 011 3919837, fax + 39 011 3919834