Of mice and ghosts

21st April 2000 at 01:00

Susan Young on a resourceful use of popular children's characters.

In case you were wondering, Casper is a spin-off star of a couple of films and a kids' cartoon series, a little ghost who hates to be scary. That creates a couple of minor problems for teachers thinking of buying this CD-ROM for classroom use: it's based on a character who may already be going out of fashion, and it's pretty American.

There is also a third potential difficulty: you need to be able to hear the instructions to complete the tasks, and that's tricky at times, especially with the music soundtrack. Children with some hearing difficulties or working in noisy classrooms might encounter real problems.

But having said that, Casper has a lot going for it. It's full of word games and puzzles for children of five and up, at three distinct levels. They are all well thought-out, with lots of rewards (burping ghosts, ghosts being covered in goo) as well as the chance to choose a clip to watch from the film Casper when an activity is complete. It also keeps a running total of how much the child has got wrong or right.

This would support the literacy hour quite well, because in addition to word games such as hangman - which is well differentiated at three levels - there are tasks involving sentences and placing nouns, verbs and djectives. The help button also gives swift explanations of basic grammar.

This is great fun, with lots of rewards, and would be a useful tool for infants and early juniors.

Maisy's Playhouse is a great marketing idea: use a famous mouse to teach kids how to manipulate a computer mouse. And in this case the idea has worked rather well. Small children love Maisy the mouse and this gentle collection of activities, aimed at over-threes, is a reassuring introduction to computer and some personal and social skills, as well as early learning. It is a brightly-coloured world where children are encouraged to dress Maisy for the day, colour in her friends, and decorate and print out pictures, among many other activities.

Along the way children learn the art of navigating through a computer game and impressive mouse skills, including how to drag and drop. Unusually for games aimed at this age group, it is also made very easy for them to print off their pictures: something you might want to disable after the second or third ink cartridge.

The makers of Maisy claim the activities gently encourage resourcefulness, independence and self-confidence. Whatever you think, Maisy's Playhouse is a nice little game which would be brilliant for use in nurseries and playgroups with children who are just getting to grips with computers - and also more advanced pre-schoolers and Reception children.

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