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It can be fun to learn letters and rhymes

Talking Animated Alphabet Nursery Rhyme Time. Software for Acorn, Apple and Multimedia PC, Pounds 29.95 and Pounds 44 respectively for single users. Sherston Software-order hotline 01666 840433.

However fast technology is developing, children still need to learn their letters. For children learning to recognise shapes and sounds of letters, Sherston has updated its Talking Animated Alphabet. It's easy enough for young children to use by themselves.

The writers have devised games to help children recognise letter shapes and initial letter sounds, finally bringing them to an understanding of the link between the two. There are three games, one to help recognise letter shapes, one to explore letter sounds and a third that combines the two.

In the letter shapes game, children's attention is focused on the letters as they metamorphose into a picture. The initial letter of the illustration corresponds to the phonic sound of the letter. The illustrations show some imagination and depart from the usual. The letter S turned into a sea-horse, for example, which made a refreshing change from the expected snake. Children receive plenty of encouragement from Alphabod, a friendly character who jumps up and down enthusiastically when you get things right.

The programme has an Options page which allows an adult to customise the games for individual children or groups. There are three levels of difficulty. In the letter shapes game children are asked to pick the odd letter out from a group of letters. In the difficult level, letters which are commonly confused, such as B and C are used. In the letters sounds game the aim of the activity is to ensure that the child learns to distinguish different letter sounds using the familiar format of an I- Spy game.

The manual has useful advice about further activities away from the computer. The box also includes a paper colour illustration for each letter shape. This programmme is quite structured and would be useful as an additional resource in the infant classroom.

One of the advantages of choosing Sherston software is that all its software is triple-platform: it can be used on either Acorn, PC or Macintosh.

Nursery Rhyme Time is a selection of favourites brought to life with animated illustrations, sound effects and music. As well as being fun they are also important for building listening skills and developing phonic awareness. This CD-Rom features 11 rhymes. Children can either listen to the rhyme and follow the highlighted words on screen or sing along to the words. There is a feature which gives children control over all the buttons, called Let Me Play. Unfortunately, there is no opportunity to interact with the illustrations. My young testers were a little disappointed when they couldn't click and make the illustrations move.

Both these titles come with helpful guides and support materials. However, since they are fairly pricey, you should avail yourself of the 28-day approval service to preview them.

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