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To go along with the new duds and school supplies, here are some software products that might make the school year accelerate from a crawl to a slow stroll for even the most reluctant scholar.

Back-to-school already? ‘Fraid so. Time for your young ones to start breaking in those scratchy new clothes and loading up that Trapper Keeper. But to go along with the new duds and school supplies, you should look into some software products that might make the school year accelerate from a crawl to a slow stroll for even the most reluctant scholar.

It’s all elementary

K-6 kids have lots of options when it comes to educational software, and not all have have to do strictly with the three Rs. Take Kidsmart’s Thinkology series, which is actually marketed to educators. Its three volumes focus on clarity, accuracy, and logic, teaching teachers how to get their kids to gather and express their thoughts in the most sensible and productive ways.

Along similar lines is FableVision’s Enlighten Me, a literacy Web site designed for kids 7-13. The core of the site is the SuperThinker Mysteries, a series of mystery games that develop critical thinking and deductive reasoning skills. The site is entirely free, fully accessible, free of ads, and requires no registration or user information.

Do you have a full set of printed encyclopediae? Neither do most families. Microsoft’s Encarta Reference Library 2004 DVD is an excellent alternative, though. Thanks to larger hard drives and the DVD format, using an encyclopedia on your computer is no longer a cumbersome, multi-CD process. This DVD features up-to-date entries, real-time Web updates, lots of multimedia content, and an easy-to-navigate interface.

Scholastic’s Math Missions: The Race to Spectacle City Arcade asks kids to use their math skills to solve real-world problems and earn money for arcade games. Travel around Spectacle City by bus, subway, or ferry and complete 12 math activities like counting candy, sorting toys, or constructing a skyscraper. The Race to Spectacle City Arcade has three levels and a tutor function.

Is your kid a stargazer? Viva Media’s RedShift 5 will boggle his little mind. It calculates the positions and simulates the movements of 20 million stars, planets, and deep sky objects; has information and high-resolution images on planets, moons, galaxies, and displays any situation in the sky within the period between 4713 B.C. and 9999 A.D. for any location on the Earth and within the solar system.

Knowing how to type is no longer optional for younger kids, and not everyone has an instant knack for it. Individual Software’s Typing Instructor Deluxe 16 uses such diversions as travel themes and adventure games to add some fun to the process of improving one’s keyboarding skills.

Tweens and teens

SpinSite is a Web site-building and hosting service that’s a good fit for schools. For $50 (which might involve hitting up parents for a couple bucks each), a class can easily design their own custom-made Web pages and use them to announce weekly event calendars, project due dates, school lunch menus, and other matters of schoolwide importance.

Educator’s Choice Middle School Excelerator is a four-disc suite of tutorial software designed to help middle-school students with math, science, and history. The emphasis is placed on the five core subjects that all students are required to take: Natural Science, Pre-Algebra, World History, Biology, and Algebra. If your child has some catching up to do in any of those core subjects, Middle School Excelerator can help her do so at her own pace.

WordPerfect Office 12 Student and Teacher Edition is a complete office suite that offers students all the features and functionality they need to create formatted, footnoted documents along with presentations, spreadsheets, and relational databases.

The New Electronic Merriam Webster Dictionary offers instant access to more than 100,000 full definitions, 500,000 synonyms and antonyms, a phonetic spell correction function, a series of learning exercises, and a Confusables feature that helps you sort out there from their and they’re.

Broderbund’s Learn to Speak system (available for English, French, or Spanish), features 35 lessons of core curriculum and 16 extended practice lessons. The program offers all the benefits of a structured language course, but also the flexibility to accommodate your individual needs and interests. Speaking of flexibility, the program comes with the core PC program, audio lessons on CD, and a 115-page reference book with printable grammar exercises.

Onfolio offers tools for collecting a wide range of content including links, text snippets, images, Web pages, and documents, and is fully integrated with Microsoft Internet Explorer and compatible with Microsoft Office. Onfolio simplifies annotating, organizing, and searching the collected content, and users can easily share research in documents, e-mails, blogs, and HTML reports.

Edmark’s Mighty Math Astro Algebra might sound a little silly for middle schoolers–you’re flying a spaceship throughout the universe and using algebra to save people–but there are certainly less mind-numbing ways to get the hang of algebra. In the course of the games, you learn functions and graphing, variables, expressions, equations and inequalities, ratios and proportions, integers and rational numbers and fractions, and decimals and percents.

If your college-freshman-to-be is freaking out over SATs, a quick fix might be Broderbund’s Princeton Review Inside the SAT & ACT 2004 Deluxe. This test preparation system contains comprehensive diagnostic testing to evaluate your student’s strengths and weaknesses. It uses this information to create a personalized study plan, offering a variety of drills and practice tests plus constructive, personalized feedback.

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