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Alpha-boredom hit for twenty-six

A to Zap!

CD-Rom for Windows Multimedia PCs (486 with 8 megabytes of memory) and Apple Macs (System 7 or later, 68040 processor with 5 megabytes of memory), Pounds 39.99. (British voice version available on floppy disc.) Tag Developments, 25 Pelham Road, Gravesend, Kent DA11 OHU. Tel: 01474 357350. Freephone orders: 0800 591 262.

When I chanted the alphabet at school as a child, Z was always for Zebra and relief that the boring ritual was over. In A to Zap!, Z is for zap not zebra and children use a lightning bolt to zap letters or objects. It's a delightful package, with strong educational content and materials which reflect a child-centred philosophy.

A to Zap! contains 26 exploratory activities for four to seven-year-olds, each based on a letter in the alphabet. The activities support language development, both spoken and written, as well as developing an awareness of concepts such as over and under, light and dark, and quickly and slowly. Other activities, integrating different curriculum areas, include maths, English and science.

The starting screen shows an alphabet room. Clicking on a letter will spell a word beginning with that letter and read it out loud. Each letter also produces an activity. The letter "T" produces the word "telephone", and children can dialnumbers and get a response. "E" results in a matching game in which an elephant is divided into three sections.

The range of activities will make this an enduring tool for the nursery or infant classroom. Apart from helping children learn their letters, the excellent materials suggest innovative collaborative work away from the computer and include a sheet which can be used to explain the program to parents.

I used the American version, which comes on CD-Rom, but there is a disc-based version which uses British accents. There is in-built flexibility which allows the teacher to change letters from upper to lower case, and pronounce the letter Z as "zed", not "zee ". The pronunciation is clear and the voices pleasant and easy to hear.

The activities are particularly good at teaching concepts which can be difficult to get across to young children and the constant repetition would particularly help pupils who do not speak English as their first language.

The program is professionally produced with smooth graphics and endearing animations. The curricular and technical support materials are helpful. And children will have fun learning about letters while hammering them, painting them and blowing them away. As well as zapping them, of course.

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