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Meet the rubbish monster with a sense of humour

Jump Ahead Toddlers Jump Ahead Pre-school Jump Ahead Starting School Jump Ahead Discovery Tree Pounds 29.99; for early learners Random House Tel: 0171 793 9000.

Helping young children develop essential learning skills is an important part of parenting. This series of computer software has been designed to bridge the gap between home and school and supports each year of development up to secondary school. It is designed to be used with children as young as 18 months old. The first title in the series, Jump Ahead Toddlers is designed for one-and-a-half to three-year-olds and introduces toddlers to pre-reading, language and number concepts.

Everything about Toddlers is bright and reassuring. The first screen begins in a child's bedroom, full of interesting things to explore. There are eight play areas, with a different activities. There are some jolly songs, which can be played on an audio CD and even the crocodile is a happy, snappy fellow. Games include letter-recognition, numbers and shapes and colours. The children are gently reminded of what they have to do by a friendly character called Giggles.

Jump Ahead Pre-school has some lovely songs and innovative games which been carefully designed to make learning fun. My favourite was a number game, where children have to place pieces of rubbish in a bin. The bin contains a rubbish monster, who has a wry sense of humour. He begs to be fed and promises to make apple sauce from apple cores. As well as encouraging reading, writing and number, the programme helps with IT skills, by encouraging children to use keyboard and mouse.

It is refreshing to hear a bird with a Scottish accent introducing Jump Ahead Starting School. For teachers wanting to use the titles with a number of pupils (up to 99 in all), the program adapts itself to each child's ability and "remembers" what stage the child is at. Printable progress reports allow parents and teachers to track which part of the software children have been using and how they have been getting on.

Jump Ahead Discovery Tree follows a different format. It is an interactive learning aid for 4 to 8-year-olds, which covers 10 topics, including the body, animals, geology, food, transport, geography, astronomy, careers, cities and the arts. Children themselves act as guides throughout this title, introducing many different topics, with animations, games and music to re-inforce the knowledge learnt.

Jump Ahead Year 1 and Jump Ahead Year 2 are to be released soon, with more titles to come later this year. This series is of high quality. Considerable thought and planning has gone into its development. It will be an excellent tool for teachers and parents and, more importantly, fun for children.

The series has been endorsed by the Parents Information Network (PIN), an independent organisation set up to help parents support their child's learning with computers. PIN has produced excellent guides for parents to accompany each disc, showing how to help children learn with the technology, as well as suggesting how to extend the learning in activities away from the computer.

* PIN, PO Box 1577, London W7 3ZT

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