Always totally composed

Paint, Write and Play, CD-Rom for Multimedia PC and Apple Mac Pounds 24. 99. The Learning Company, Heritage House, 21 Inner Park Road, London SW19 6ED

Nicola Jones tries a program that enables children to paint and write.

Young writers need plenty of encouragement to express their ideas. Paint, Write and Play will help them to begin to compose their own stories.

It has three components - the Travel Centre, to give children inspiration for their stories, the Art Studio, where the stories are illustrated, and the Writing House, where they can express their ideas in writing.

Children can create their own books quickly and easily - and print them out to enjoy away from the computer, for instance with other children and family.

The Travel Centre has 10 different environments, with lots to stimulate a child's imagination in each.

When the mouse pointer is moved over an object the child can see and hear its name, and with a click of the mouse, add it to his or her personal wordlist. Each scene contains sights and sounds in different environments, for example, a farm scene. There are also simple animations which could provoke discussion before starting.

The Writing House allows children to type, with features that allow him or her to change the size and insert punctuation marks easily. Picture words can be added and a personal word list developed. These words can be collected in the Travel Centre when children collect ideas for their stories. The words in the personal word list don't have to be typed out again, but are clicked on so that children are able to write quite sophisticated stories, even if their spelling is still developing.

Finally, the Art Studio allows each page of the story to be illustrated. There are enough stamps (ready-made artwork and icons) and backgrounds to make this easy even for very young children and the pages can be made more elaborate with shading and borders.

A title page and other special pages can be added and it's easy to save and retrieve stories. The only problem I had was with loading the program. A fault on the CD-Rom meant it failed to load a file it needed from the system called Wing.DLL. Most PCs already have this, but if you don't you will need to put this file into your system folder from the CD-Rom. I found the technical helpline very good.

This program is a support for developing writers, although there are many others that do similar things. However, the word-lists and Travel Centre are an original and helpful addition which would justify its purchase.

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