Having recently finished reading Michael Crichton's Timeline and dodged the queues at the Jorvik Centre in York, I started to think about the role of re-enactment in teaching history. Re-enactment groups offer children a sense of authenticity and hands-on experience, but what happens when they've gone home?
Enter video technology and the excellent ZigZag series (Longman pound;34 plus pound;3.25 postage and VAT, 01223 425558, www.logo.com) with follow-up activities and CD-Roms. Children have to fulfil various tasks as they navigate a Tudor village, or go on outings to Roman, Greek, Anglo-Saxon or Egyptian settlements.
Meanwhile, Anglia Multimedia (01268 755811, www.angliamultimedia.com) uses video within its history CD-Roms to provide information and introduce activities children can slip in and out of and which fit the lesson format well.
Excellent though these series are, they might not satisfy children hungry for the realism and speed of their PC or PlayStation. The games reviewed here could all be used as ways into history, and are often cheaper than education-specific programs.
Qin, pronounced Ching (Attica pound;29.95, 01865 791346, www.attica.com), delivers wonderful photorealistic scenes as you tour the underground tomb of the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huangdi (the player is an archaeologist hired by a huge corporation to open the tomb).
The control bar accesses the Data Visor, which provides factual historical information about the Qin dynasty (481BC-221AD) Chinese artefacts were photographed to recreate the locations. The result is a beautiful game, but the images take forever to download.
A little more sucessful is Nile: an ancient Egyptian quest (Zablac pound;29.99, 01626 332233, www.zablac.co.uk), which takes you back 4,000 years into a three-dimensional recreation of ancient Egypt using artefacts from the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. All you have to do is find some hidden burial chambers. If you're successful you will restore the Ka, or life force, of the Nile Pharaohs. Along the way 15 authentic myths await discovery, brought to life in digital video with exquisite artwork, narration and music.
But the most successful of this genre to date is The Vikings (Europress pound;19.99, 01625 855000, www. europress.co.uk). This has everything from sport to naval battles, murder, revenge and magic as you travel back 1,000 years to help young Hjalmar on his epic adventure to find his parent's murderers, recover an axe named Hildred, and prove his right to lead his people.
Graphics, video footage, music and sound effects are atmospheric. Children have to solve 10 puzzles and converse with tradesmen, warriors and merchants. Players visit all of the 60 Viking sites in Europe, from Greenland to Kiev, setting up trading routes before navigating the seas.
Scratch the surface of this adventure game and you'll find an enormous database of archaeological information about Viking culture.
Sounds perfect? There are elements of Viking culture you may not want children to see. In this case the gore is not gratuitous, but the game may be best saved for Years 5, 6 and above. If the format works for you, try Crusader from the same publisher.
Pam Turnbull teaches at The Heys primary school, Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester