Early object lessons
By Rhona Whiteford
Big Book pound;19.99, photocard packs pound;39.99, pupil books Pounds 7.99
BBC Magic Grandad: Toys Today and in the Past; Homes Today and in the Past; Magic Grandad's Seaside Holiday; The Great Fire of London
BBC Active, Sherston Publishing
PC + Mac single user pound;70.44 inc VAT, PC + Mac unlimited user Pounds 352.21 inc VAT.
There's a big problem with teaching history in the early years. It isn't there any more and that makes it hard for small children, who learn through their senses, because there's so little left to touch or feel or smell. Artefacts are fragile and hard to get hold of and visits to historic sites are difficult, so picture packs are a godsend for hard-pressed teachers.
Folens has got the process down to a fine art. Their current offering is just what the doctor ordered, a big book packed with high quality photographs and images illustrating the three most popular themes in the QCA key stage 1 schemes of work. The pictures are large and clear enough to share with the whole class and for individual use there are sets of the same pictures in an A4 format. Text has been kept to a minimum so that the focus is on looking, comparing and discussing the five carefully-chosen images in each unit, which are accessible to children regardless of their reading ability. They include a gorgeous museum display of toys and some excellent then-and-now photographs of ice-cream sellers and a Punch and Judy. These vivid images often feature children and provide an excellent gateway to the elusive kingdom of the past.
There are some good ideas in the Teacher Resource book. Closely matched to QCA Year 1 schemes, some are predictable (talk to grandparents about their favourite toy), some are ambitious (reconstruct a Victorian working-class kitchen) and a few are inspired in their simplicity (invite children to bring in a bedtime toy and read a bedtime story from their parents' or grandparents' time).
The activities are better than the over-designed worksheets. It is questionable how much Year 1 children can benefit from commercial worksheets and these with their complicated layout and limited space seem bound to cause dismay. But, in general, the Teacher Resource book is well thought-out and will be useful to less confident teachers. The more experienced will just grab the pictures and go for it. The Teachers' Book might gather dust in the history cupboard, but the big book and the picture packs will be used and dog-eared in no time - the test of a really good resource.
When the BBC series first started, Grandad was not just magic, he was also incredibly old. Now a trim figure in his baseball cap and trainers, Magic Grandad has finally gone digital.
Each CD-Rom follows the same format with a brief introduction from Magic Grandad and nine activities. Each begins with a Click and Explore screen followed by what the notes describe as "an engaging task". The idea is that children explore the screen first, clicking on highlighted images and listening to Magic Grandad's snippets of information, before using the knowledge in the task.
Some tasks are not very engaging (eg, matching tops and tails of sentences), but others use limited resources to great effect. Thus children can create, save and print a picture of a toy in a museum display, import images and captions to make a poster and use clues to find out the function of a mystery artefact. A CD-Rom is no substitute for the real thing but it does have a certain novelty value and allows children to work at their own pace. Navigation is simple and well thought out and teacher controls ensure that tasks can be tailored to the ability of a particular class or group.