Thank goodness software has become easy to install. Years back I could guarantee a Christmas Day call for help. Today, the biggest snag is finding quality. To save buying blindly, Whizzkids, a free catalogue on a CD-Rom, is a real find. Made by Cathryn Hossack, a parent of three, the disc includes recommendations and demonstrations to sample and run. Thanks are due for help with this Christmas list.
The Lost Mind of Dr Brain (age 9-16, Pounds 10, Knowledge Adventure) is a re-release at a bargain price for a game with loads of mind puzzles involving memory and logic. A wacky commentary holds it together and you work through three levels of difficulty on each puzzle.
The Reader Rabbit series of Toddler, Pre-school and Kindergarten (Pounds 25, The Learning Company) is for ages 18 months up to six years. Cartoon characters talk children through activities with shapes, patterns and sequencing on to early maths and reading. Special features include British voices, exercises on four levels and, in the Toddler edition, click-free mouse operation.
Encyclopaedia Britannica '99 is a serious competitor for a home encyclopaedia. It is the full 32-volume work with photographs, maps and world data. It lets you type in questions and is a very good read, though at Pounds 99 it needs a second or third look.
Dorling Kindersley manages a strong line-up, including the updated astronomy classic Redshift 3 (age 14-plus, Pounds 30) with its photographs, film and live star map. Sixty guided tours at last make it easy to use and let you see next August's eclipse before the neighbours.
Also updated is David McCauley's The New Way Things Work (age 10-plus, Pounds 30), an entertaining, even motivating, CD-Rom about inventors, inventions and their scientific principles.
Another updated work is the Eyewitness World Atlas, featuring some awesome fly-over sequences and a smart way of showing world temperatures and rainfall on a spinning globe.
All About Me (age 6-10, Pounds 20) is a clever, interactive fact file where children can keep a diary about what they do at school or home as well as record facts about themselves, such as how many teeth they have or how their feet smell. The software compares their height to a giraffe, their weight to a mouse and invites them to design their fantasy packed lunch.
My First Amazing History Explorer (age 7-10, Pounds 25) shows eight periods in history starting with ancient Egypt. There are dioramas to explore, trails through time and ways to compare then and now.
My First Amazing World Explorer 2 (age 6-10, Pounds 25), which has won awards and acclaim, follows. Children tour the globe looking for clues and hear about the animals, costumes and customs of the countries. It's a British title to sit beside Br?derbund's successful Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego - Junior Detective.
Just out and using the same formula to cover two more subjects is Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego and Carmen Sandiego Maths Detective.
Bananas in Pyjamas (age 3-4, Pounds 20, DK), from the Channel 4 series, is sweet fun and pranks. There is good animation with music, fixing chairs and tidying up, but it is for the very young.
Noddy 2 (age 3-5) is good from the BBC, with counting, colours, letters and a fun ski game.