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TV films Ann Arbor kids enjoying Aristoplay

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TV films Ann Arbor kids enjoying Aristoplay

Educational games intrigued 'Good Morning America

By: Cathy O'Donnell

Learning was child's play in Joan Suskin's fourth grade Thursday morning when a crew from ABC'S "Good Morning America" filmed their class at Burn Park Elementary School.

The students were playing "Guess It, Somebody" and "Alpha Animals educational games invented and marketed by Aristoplay, the learning toys company headquartered at 334 E. Washington St. in Ann Arbor.

Aristoplay got Good Morning America's attention because the show will be doing a segment on educational games Tuesday morning and Aristoplay has won a number of national awards for its products.

"It's the holiday season and people are interested in getting good, educational games for their children," said Ann Varney, one of the show's producers.

At one table in Suskin's classroom, four kids played SomeBody, a game about human anatomy invented by Jan Barney Newman, founder and president of Aristoplay.

"Which body parts contract and relax when you move?" fourth-grader Michael Westerman asked the classmate Scott Wedemeyer. With the correct answer-your muscles-Wedemeyer got to put a plastic muscle on his copy of the human body.

"Before we started playing this game, I didn't know anything about body parts or where they are," said Wedemeyer, 9. "Now I can name a number of them, and it was fun to learn."

At a nearby table, Evan Levine pointed to a picture of a heiroglyphic river cooter, a species of turtle. He had identified it as part of Guess It," an Aristoplay game similar to the been-around-forever game, Twenty Questions.

In playing "Guess It," kids learn observation and classification skills by identifying various animals, plants or minerals.

"These games fit our fourth-grade curriculum very well," explained Joan Suskin, standing next to the "Guess It" players. "The students bring their own experience to the group, and it's very natural to use cooperative learning."

Playing is also natural for kids, she said. "Fun triggers enthusiasm," Suskin added, "and enthusiasm spark creativity." The key to using educational games, said the teacher, is to make them part of the learning unit and to make sure students have working knowledge of the subject before-hand.

At the Aristoplay offices later, ABC science editor Michael Guillen asked Jan Barney Newman, a former teacher at Tappan Middle School, how she started inventing games for kids.

It was a form of self preservation, Newman said. "If the regular approach didn't take them where they wanted to go," she said, "spit wads would start flying."

A good educational game has got to be really fun, Newman said, and it's got to look as good as the best children's book. "Kids can spot the medicinal look a mile away," she said.

Ideas for Aristoplay games come from popular culture, from the most popular children's books and from the questionnaire included in each game.

The company also kid-tests its games. As part of the "Good Morning America" segment, Guillen will play NOVA True Science with Huron High School students Max Fry, Ashley Webb, and Jesse Chandler.

Marketed under a licensing agreement with the PBS program, NOVA, the game this year won a "Best 100" award from the Institute for Childhood Resources.

Guillen will also test a soon-to-be-released game "True Math" with Matt Cameron, Michelle Kim and Natalie Stevenson from the Slauson Middle School and Eric Williams from Dicken Elementary School.