After a quarter of a century entertaining and educating children, Sesame Street turns to the CD-Rom. It's unfashionable to like things too much but the Sesame Street CD-Roms are excellent. The legendary pre-school TV programme is a treat and now those funny, furry characters - approaching 25 years of age - have moved on to CD-Rom. For early learners, that means something more interactive, and for teachers and parents, something with promise.
Computers, aren't they hard? Not here, just listen to it. "Hi, move your mouse and click on something that sparkles," says Elmo. So you move around the street in Numbers, click on the cartoon-style castle and The Count (geddit?) tells you what to do. He wants you to match numbers and symbols to find his bats.
Counting, that's the hard bit. As children click away they'll find eight activities, all loosely based on number work. They classify things by choosing those which are yellow, can swim and belong to Ernie. They look for a box of bird seed in Big Bird's nest as she gives out clues like "You're near", "You're very near", and so on.
This voice-over is very encouraging but also very American. So you find the seed and Bird Bird says: "You win! You win! You found my bird seed. You sure listened to my clues all right." I have no problems with this, though a friend tells me that she can't stand the accents. This aside, the help here is well above average.
The Letters title takes a similar approach. Again, it's a set of activities loosely based around the title - this time it's rhyming, shapes, and matching letters with sounds. If these are matched to the child's level they make for worthwhile practice. As in all home learning titles, there are plenty of things to click on and animate, some stories to hear ("The Three Pigs" - for counting to three), a radio with sing-along songs and a television which shows classic Street clips.
Let's Make a Word asks children to choose letters to spell words, sound out letters, find things that rhyme, or find things that say, belong to a house. The setting - what you'd normally call a menu - is a game show where they choose Muppet experts (I won't drop names) to guide them round a farm, a restaurant or a building site.
It offers almost endless variety: you can even match words in Spanish. This is often hard, although older kids might be too street-wise to want to play.
As today's brand-name merchandising dictates, you've got to have a drawing program in your range and the Art Workshop facility fills this niche. Scepticism aside, this one is so easy - there are scenes to drop stickers on, birthday cards to make, characters to dress up, and finger puppets to colour in and cut out. There's free-form drawing and scribbling too, but even without these, three or four-year-olds can get good results and still feel creative. Currently, I'd wager that this is one of the best drawing programs for this age group.
And so finally to Madeline, another children's culture creature. The idea is simple: the children have to collect the things this Parisian girl needs for a puppet show. The solution is more convoluted.
As the adventure game genre dictates, they have to collect five balloons, get the bread, give it to the printer man, get the invitations, go to the loft. Fortunately, there are plenty of clues. All this problem-solving takes time. Children will relate to the character, soppy thing that she is. But even though there's a word game to play in English, French or Spanish, it doesn't quite relate to the classroom. I'd save this as a good choice for parents.
Overall, it's rare to find a set of titles of such quality. The choice is between letting kids free play with them or fitting the exercises into a teaching plan.
It's double bubble, amazing even, that on a Windows 95 computer, even the children can install and run them.
Are they fun? Well, is Oscar grouchy?