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Exploratory browse among the butterflies

Usborne Exploring Nature CD-Rom by Main Multimedia and the Hampshire Microtechnology Centre for Acorn RiscOs computers, Pounds 125 Cumana, Pines Trading Estate, Broad Street, Guildford, Surrey, GU3 3BH. Telephone: 0483 503121.

Explore no further; this CD-Rom will enthral children for hours on end. Whether they use it to find the answers to given questions, to help fill in background details for a project, to trace the name of the butterfly which just flew in the classroom window or simply browse around randomly for the pure fun of it, they will find it fascinating and, quite literally, fruitful.

The graphics are superb throughout. You begin in a child's bedroom full of the usual children's paraphernalia. Many of these items are actually buttons through to other parts of the program. For instance, clicking on the window, the door or the painting will take you into the Field Trip section. Here you can select any one of 34 locations to explore.

You are provided with a toolbox containing measuring instruments, collecting tools, a map, a notebook, the Field Guide and the Red Telephone, which gets you interactive help (with the program) should you need it. Once in a location, you can begin to discover what lives and grows there, collect and research specimens, make notes in your screen notebook and even record the sunshine and rainfall while you're there. This is great fun and can be treated as an exceptionally educational adventure game, should you so choose.

Incidentally, there is also an option for the teacher to set a child or group a task to perform or a puzzle to solve.

However, leafing through the field guide and the specialised theme books is just as exciting. The illustrations are so beautiful (and accurate) and the text so simple yet fascinating that I could happily browse for hours.

When a strange-looking moth appeared in my living room recently, my daughters and I searched through several books of butterflies and moths, garden and wildlife guides and even encyclopedias in a vain attempt to identify it, but to no avail. Later, I thought I'd try the field guide from Exploring Nature and there it was, a Red Underwing, unmistakably illustrated and precisely described.

The guide covers birds, trees, flowers, butterflies and moths, wild animals, fish and "creepy crawlies". The theme "books" included on the disc describe Where Things Live; The Seasons; How Things Move; Animal Lifecycles; Plant Lifecycles; Staying Alive; What Things Eat; Parts of the Body; Body Coverings; Trees in Closeup; Flowers in Closeup; The Senses; and Nature's Colours. Quite a list.

Each book covers its subject simply but thoroughly, giving illustrated examples and explanations as well as posing the odd question. As if that was not enough, you can also choose to visit any of the major continents, by clicking on the atlas.

After changing from an aeroplane to a helicopter, you can inspect a previous explorer's notes and pictures in his scrapbook of the area. Usborne Exploring Nature is as well packaged as it is programmed and comes with a ring binder of support materials, including a national curriculum reference section, which I'm sure will be post-Dearingised very soon.

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