Good educational software must challenge and delight children to have lasting value. Occasionally, publishers offer too many bells and whistles and not enough content, but this is not the case with Tivola, a Berlin-based publisher which is bringing five titles to the UK in four distinct series for children aged from three to 10.
The titles I looked at were in the Play and Learn and the World Around Us series. Some dubbed "edutainment" are too low on "edu", but are suitable for home and school use. The emphasis is on child-centred learning, with an obvious respect for the early learner built into the programs.
Snow White and the Seven Hansels, in the Play and Learn series, combines the well-known fairy tales of Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. It relies on a child's knowledge of fairy tales as the game is to avoid muddling the different stories up. When you get it wrong, a character may plead for you to go back and sort things out, which children are eager to do - after all, who can contemplate Snow White getting left in her coffin waiting for her Prince forever?
This program raises questions about fairy tale conventions and, with its gentle wit and beautiful illustrations, kept my five-year-old testers interested for over an hour.
The two titles in the World Around Us series are nature-based and allow children to find out more about animals. They have the help of Oscar, a chirpy character who travels around in a balloon. Oscar the Balloonist and the Secrets of the Forest and Oscar the Balloonist Discovers the Farm do show animals talking but, despite this, are factually sound. Each looks at the animal's existence, their food, sleeping habits and how they respond to seasons.
There are games on each title, but none more hilarious than "Who's Done What", in IDiscovers the Farm, which asks you to match the farm animal to its dung!
These have not been localised for the UK, which means one or two creatures are unlikely to be seen in Britain, such as storks. The stories can be heard in English, German and, in some cases, French.
Max and the Secret Formula and Max and Marie Go Shopping, from the Play and Learn series, challenge children to find certain objects as they explore different environments. I was rather glad to see Marie, Max's cousin, as the characters had been rather male-dominated up to this point.
In Max and the Secret Formula, Max has to find hidden numbers in his Uncle Pong's house to stop the leaning tower of Auntie Lisa collapsing. Children must also find a secret room at the top of the house to get the formula quickly to Auntie Lisa's house. I had so much fun finding the formula that I burnt the dinner. I never did get to save the leaning tower!
The programs are value for money, easy to use - even for very young children - and have their place in the infant and junior classroom. And at least your children will know what kind of dung they have trodden in at the city farm!
Nicola Jones is a teacher trainer and consultant who teaches children with moderate learning difficulties