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Early learning

NooNoo takes the biscuit. At least he tries to, in the Teletubbies CD-Rom aimed at two-year olds released by the BBC in conjunction with Ragdoll productions. The cursor is a spray of pink stars which my two-year-old tester was easily able to guide around the screen. She shrieked with delight as a click of the mouse sent pieces of tubby toast shooting out of the toaster, slowly pursued by NooNoo's undulating snout. The excitement was almost too much for me as I wondered if the little hand controlling the mouse would stop NooNoo from taking the biscuit. The trouble is, my two-year-old wanted Noo Noo to have the biscuit. Tinky Winky just laughed and we did it all over again.The graphics and interaction on this title are excellent. There are seven different activities and different levels of interaction will make this CD-Rom suitable for children aged from two upwards.

Noddy's back in Toytown. A second Noddy title, Noddy: Let's get ready for school, is well designed and easy to use. Noddy waddles off on his adventures, completing various activities on the way.

The games are well designed and great fun. This title supports numbers and spelling, shape, space and measure, as well as following patterns and colour recognition. The games are well designed and educationally sound, but the most enjoyable is one where you have to turn a hose on Sly and Gobbo to wash off their disappearing dust and reveal them bit by bit.

Bananas in Pyjamas is another favourite of young children. BI and B2, of GMTV fame are at their stripey best in this CD-Rom, entitled It's Party Time. The two Bs are always enthusiastic and encouraging as they introduce the different activities. Both the graphics and the music are excellent. My young learner particularly enjoyed visiting Cuddles Avenue, where clicking on a row of coloured bunting produced different notes. There is also a bonus pack containing pictures and invitations to paint and print out.

For busy teachers needing materials for the literacy hour, Crick software have produced All my Words. It's a simple program which requires little ICT knowledge and allows a teacher to type in any word or sentence. Once the text is typed, the software creates a range of different literacy activities including word or letter matching, fill in the gaps, look-write-cover check and close procedures. Struggling readers can use the built-in speech to read the text, and although the voice is robotic this is a very useful feature that allows for more independent learning. There are 100 ready-to-use examples and over 400 graphics.

Another package produced by teachers for teachers is Handwriting for Windows 2.0. This program allows teachers to type in text which converts to handwriting at th click of a button, enabling them to make their own handwriting worksheets quickly and easily. The latest version now comes with dotted fonts and it is possible to choose your preferred letter shape and add lead-in strokes if required. This program is simple to use and would be a real time saver in any primary classroom.

Two CD-Roms by Computer Kids which encourage the use of ICT across the primary curriculum are Word Processing Skills (pound;50), which provides 70 tasks and templates to practice word processing skills through popular topics and Pictorial Databases, which supports Junior Pinpoint, Findit and Information Worksheet and contain databases on emergency rescue, People of Rome and Victorian Vehicles.

The CD-Roms are easy to use and very teacher friendly and would be a great boon for any ICT co-ordinator wanting to help staff to use ICT in their classroom teaching.

On the numeracy front, Black Cat's newest software in the Numbers, Words and Pictures suite aims to help children from four to seven years learn the principles of simple computer programming. By commanding the turtle around the screen with a series of step command icons displayed on the menu bar, pupils are gently, but effectively, introduced to the LOGO programming language and on-screen control. A teacher's set-up section enables teachers to customise the turtle for individual pupils.

Graphers is a data-graphing tool from Sunburst (pound;45.95 from TAG) for young children. Children can create pictorial data from over 30 data sets and represent their data on a table or with six types of graphs. It's easy and intuitive to use and has two parts: Warm Up provides dynamic graphs and simple data: Work Out includes more graph types, more data and the ability to save data and graphs. It comes with excellent teachers' materials, including lesson plans.

Finally, because all early learning should be a joy, try Orly's Draw a Story from Br?derbund (pound;25.52 from TAG). In my book, this is one of the most delightful pieces of software ever made.

Orly, a delightful Jamaican girl and Lancelot the frog, tell stories, At various intervals the story stops so the child can create their own object or character, which then becomes part of the story. It's magical for a child to see a character they've coloured or drawn become part of the story and the interaction is so seamless it almost feels as though Orly can see the child directly through the computer screen. This is one of those CD-Roms that really does take the biscuit.

BBCEducation Stand: Cat Stand: F70www.blackcatsoftware.comComputer Kids Stand: SN49www.compkids.comCrick Software Stand: SN2SN5www.cricksoft.comTAG Stand:

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