I've just been playing tennis with a penguin called Pingu, but my hand-eye co-ordination isn't particularly good and, for the most part, Pingu won. The claim made by the BBC that its multimedia titles make learning fun is certainly true of two of its CD-Rom titles for three to six-year-olds, Pingu and Noddy, the Magic of Toytown.
Children are motivated by television characters they are familiar with. Pingu, a naughty penguin who lives in an igloo with his parents and sister, is a cheeky chap who chuckles and tumbles through games and learning activities in this program, keeping everything light and exciting. Pingu is entertaining - even enchanting - and the educational content has been carefully thought out.
The main menu on the Pingu disc gives a choice of five games and five puzzles. The puzzles include an activity that helps children recognise different letters and their sounds and helps them practise spelling familiar words. A number puzzle encourages children to recognise a number's appearance and its sound. Listening skills are developed with a puzzle that encourages children to differentiate between sounds and there are activities to explore colour and shape. These are the features of many CD-Roms, but the interface on these games allows much choice and help for a child. With levels of difficulty on every game, they're gentle enough for a three-year-old, but challenging for a six-year-old.
The games aim to develop reflexes and hand-eye co-ordination. I enjoyed one where Pingu jumps across a moving ice floe to deliver presents to his friend on the other side. One false move and Pingu falls in the water, but pops up out of a hole in the ice to have another go. A music game allows children to play tunes, record them and play them back. The menus are simple and the commentary helpful.
Noddy, The Magic of Toytown is also a well-produced and enjoyable program. The activities can be accessed from the menu, which displays a Noddy film in a cinema, and lets you hear and interact with a story in Storytime, or play various painting games.
An innovative activity allows children to build their own cartoon, selecting various backgrounds and moving the characters across the screen. Very young children will need help, but it was refreshing to see a program that allowed the child so much control. For one game, Toytown Tour, they have to find objects hidden around Toytown while driving Noddy's car. This will go some way toward developing mapping skills and problem-solving techniques.
Finally, Clockwork Mouse hosts three games designed to develop concentration, observation and memory.
These titles are beautifully produced by the BBC and are very good value. The games support a range of early learning skills and have been designed with good educational content.