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Hands on

Introducing kids to technology at an early age has never been more important, which is why Team Concepts has created computers solely for little learners. John O'Connor reports.

Children don't see a division between work and play when using these.

The National Grid for Learning is generating considerable interest among parents thanks to the work of groups such as Parents Information Network (PIN) that support mums and dads keen to get their kids on to the grid.

Which is where Team Concepts comes in. Very much a firm of our times, this educational technology producer has an eye for a global, family trend and boasts offices in Fifth Avenue, New York, a French connection and has a hang-out in Hong Kong. But its 20-odd IT products for children not only span the planet, they span the ages, too. Its catalogue opens at page three, age three, with the Little Genius Phone. Then it's a few hops from the Little Learning Frog to some lively laptops for little tekkies. And at just pound;50 for the entry model, the products will appeal to small pockets, too.

The Junior, Super and High Tech computer ranges align with the foundation and two primary key stages. The products in the pre-school Little Learning range are brightly coloured, speak reasonable English and have adequate graphics for their many functions. All the machines come with built-in practice materials and their software bundles provide maths and vocabulary development tools.

Parents will welcome the appeal of the learning activities and games; exercises to support language and number power learning, trivia quizzes and homework guidance are included alongside arcade games and strategy favourites such as Battleships. And a sign of their success is that children find it hard to discriminate between learning and play - as if anyone would dare to.

By the time children are eight-plus, we're talking (literally) bilingual machines, some with peripherals that let you download work on to a PC or facilities that allow printer connectivity and laptop-to-laptop links. Some models boast extra features to wow the young 'uns; for the (semi) streetwise, the CD Audiomaster plays digital-quality tracks from their favourite Barbie album; and the Comquest TV Laptop offers a perfectly usable word-processor, spreadsheet and drawing tools that looked fine on a pound;25, carboot sale telly and sounded no worse than a GameBoy.

And that's where there may be a problem. These machines will inevitably be forced to compete with pure entertainment machines and may pale when compared to a PlayStation's thrills. That's a shame because using these computers is a far more educational experience and there were times during our extended home trial when mum, dad and the children were gathered round a computer to answer its silly questions just for the fun of it.

The kids loved them and compared to Furbies they are better value - and, of course, far less annoying.

Diskmaster. Price: pound;52.75. Comquest Gold. Price: pound;108.45. Comquest TV Laptop. Price: pound;110. CD Audiomaster. Price: pound;129.99. Team Concepts. Tel: 01635 863993.

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