Parents using computers with their five to seven-year-olds are often confused. They feel their children are ready to move beyond simple games software but they are not sure what comes next.
Most of the titles used in school are tightly focused on particular areas of curriculum subjects and are often unsuitable for use at home by a non-teacher. Parents need advice about how software can offer a different experience from the classroom but still support what their children are learning at school.
Here is a selection of software and websites you can recommend to any parents who ask for advice about using the family computer.
Mouse Music is a collection of musical activities which supports the development of listening, pitch discrimination, rhythm and melody, using musical vocabulary and symbols.
All the activities are great fun, especially when a parent or another child joins in rather than just watching.
There is something very satisfying about making your own music and children will come back again and again to this software. There are very good suggestions for parents in the printed manual so that even those who are not confident about music will be able to join in.
What child wouldn't love to fill a shopping trolley with goodies? Sum Shopping is set in a supermarket filled with fruit and vegetables, meat and dairy products, toys, cakes and sweets, drinks, pet-food, frozen and canned foods.
At the start of each game, the user is given a shopping list and budget or set a simple task. They then explore the aisles, dragging and dropping items into their trolley.
At the checkout, the items are scanned and the prices totalled. The graphics are gorgeous and there are three different levels.
Guidance about numeracy learning objectives is on the related website.
2Review helps children create reviews of books, TV programmes, holidays, music, art, plays or foods.
Pictures can be added to reviews so children can take their own photographs or scan in their drawings to personalise their work.
This makes the program very personal and will bring them back to create new reviews, building up a record of their developing skills in writing and presenting information.
There are two levels of review framework, one for ages five to seven and one for ages eight to 11, so the software could be used happily for years.
Ambleside Primary School website, Ambleweb, has plenty of content for children aged five to seven, and also offers advice for parents on how to help their children make the most of learning resources.
There are original and entertaining games and learning activities as well as links to other sites. The e-learning section of the site has key stage 1 materials to support geography, history, ICT, literacy, numeracy and science.
The Game Zone has games created at the school to practise multiplication tables and other maths skills, as well as some musical treats and a good old ping-pong game.
Wildkids has information for children and adults on wildlife, conservation and nature. For children, there are bright and attractive stories, puzzles, games, online and offline activities and a homework help section.
Curriculum support is good and the notes will help parents guide their children. The Discovery section for children has excellent wildlife sounds as well as pictures, animated videos and text. Themes include gardening, pond life, woodlands, tracks and signs, meadows and grasslands, and autumn activities.
Artgames is a great site for parent and child to explore together. It offers animated interactive art lessons on portraits, landscapes, still life, abstract art and the use of colour, historical notes about artists and activities based on types of paintings and colour effects.
It uses animation and sound effects to create an entertaining and educational experience. KS1 children will need parental help with reading the text.
The online lessons can be followed up with plenty of experimenting with real paint and pencils and perhaps a visit to an art gallery or museum.
Jane Mitra is education adviser to the Parents Information Network