NUMBERTIME: MORE OR LESS Age range: 4-5 BBC2 Wednesdays 10.25am Repeated Thursdays 1.40am Until June 13 Teacher's notes Pounds 2.50 BBC Education 0181 746 1111
With this latest batch of eight programmes, Numbertime completes a year's worth of broadcasts for children in their first year at school. Numbertime has deservedly received widespread praise for its mixture of approaches to the consolidation of number skills for early years, and these programmes will add to its reputation.
Topics covered this term come under the general heading of "More or Less", with each programme taking an idea such as adding on two more or counting three back. The format of each programme is roughly the same, with a song at the beginning and end, with lots of imaginative and entertaining content in between.
El Nombre, the Mexican masked stranger who swings (literally) into action whenever little Juan and his friends find themselves in difficulties with some aspect of mathematics, appears in each programme. The producers have included several excruciating puns, usually around Juan's name, allowing teachers to derive some satisfaction from these episodes.
Each of the concepts is illustrated in several different ways, with attention to the appropriate vocabulary. There are animations P for example, a bird which adds or takes away various objects, and there are clear, uncluttered photographic sequences of objects being added or taken away.
But perhaps the most entertaining sections of the programmes are those which parody game shows and other contemporary television genres, or which use stories and fairy tales to illustrate the mathematics. Jack and the Beanstalk is re-told in a programme on "five more", with Jack's mother refusing to let him climb up the beanstalk until there are five more leaves on it.
"Find One More" is a quiz game with more than a passing resemblance to programmes involving Paul Daniels and Bruce Forsyth, in which the contestant has to remember objects on the back of cards in order to make a pair. The lucky winner in this case goes home with a pair of unsavoury looking trainers.
Fairy tales and modern television come together in "What a Surprise", as a Liverpudlian fairy godmother visits Cinderella, and helps her (with frequent exclamations of "what a surprise!") to go to the ball by collecting three more of the lizards needed for the coach.
My favourite sketch involves Snow White visiting a fast food outlet to buy food for the seven dwarves. The menu includes burgers and similar delights, and the proprietor, having conned Snow White into buying an apple which will cause her to sleep for 100 years, sends her off with a "have a bad day now".
The production values in the programmes are high, and the performers are excellent, resisting any temptation to be patronising. There is a wealth of follow-up activities in the teacher's notes, including copyright-free worksheets. This series will help infants to consolidate their grasp of number sequences and is to be thoroughly recommended.