Sparking into life

Spark Island books and software for home learning

Spark Island book with CD-Rom pound;7.99

ABC Learning Adventures age 3-5;

Reading and Writing Learning Adventures age 5-7;

Numbers Learning Adventures age 3-5;

Maths Learning Adventures age 5-7

Spark Island standalone CD-Rom pound;14.99

Farmer Rumtum's Letter Fun age 3-5;

Reading Games age 5-7;

Farmer Rumtum's Number Fun age 3-5

Number Games age 5-7

Fitness for purpose ****

Ease of use ****

Features ***

Quality ****

Both product ranges available from BBC Worldwide Children's Learning at www.bbcshop.com or 01795 414715 for standalone CDs only. The books with CDs will also be available from booksellers

Jane Mitra is education adviser to the Parents Information Network

www.pin.org.uk

A range of software aimed at home users has been launched by BBC Learning, a division of BBC Worldwide, and Spark Learning. There are standalone CD-Roms (pound;14.99) and workbooks with CD-Rom attached (pound;7.99), all featuring interactive literacy and numeracy games for children aged 3 to 5 or 5 to 7. Titles for 7 to 9 and 9 to 11-year-olds will follow soon. The books are filled with colourful worksheets, each one having a helpful piece of advice for parents at the bottom.

The look and feel of the software is bright and cheerful, with good-quality sound. The spoken text is very clear, always important in early reading support. The graphic design and navigation is simple and consistent across the titles. Each game has a set of notes for parents with background information on the learning purpose of the game and lots of suggested activities to do with their child before and after they play it. This is the best feature of the software.

The games are linked to curriculum requirements. For example, Reading Games for 5-7 focus on alphabetical order, vowels and consonants, spelling strategies, synonyms, syllables, questions and classification. There are also printable resources, for example a bright bingo sheet for a game based on times tables.

The scoring system is confusing. A child can do well in a game and be awarded five 'megahop' points. They may have another go and win another five, but the score sheet will only show five because it shows the highest score achieved in any one game, not a cumulative score. A certificate can be printed with details of the megahops scored by a particular child. The scores are not saved between sessions and there is no record of how many failed attempts have been made in a game.

On the related subscription-based website, www.sparkisland.co.uk, there are learning activities and parental guidance articles classified as for Year 1 or Year 2, rather than grouped for ages 5 to 7. That approach would have been useful on these CDs. Children learn a wide range of literacy and numeracy skills across any span of three years and it may be hard for some parents to judge which games will support learning and which ones may cause frustration because they cover topics not yet introduced in school.

Inquisitive children who click on the Help button will find a screen of text which includes a live link to the Spark Island website. With many families having on-all-the-time internet connections, this is a concern if you do not want younger children going online independently. For that reason, I would not recommend this software for unsupervised use - but, in any case, with such a wealth of parental support, it would be a shame if parents didn't get fully involved in all the activities offered. This is potentially very supportive software children will enjoy using, especially if their parents take an interest.

Jane Mitra

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