Enabling environments tried and tested: Make it click!

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Early years practitioners assess the usefulness of educational software in their settings and report back to Sue Hubberstey.

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CLICKER PHONICS

CRICK SOFTWARE
AGE RANGE: 3-plus
PRICE: from £35 per title (single user)
CONTACT: 0845 1211691
www.cricksoft.com

This is designed to develop early listening skills and build phonological awareness. It is suitable to be used alongside any phonics scheme, including 'Jolly Phonics'. The series is split into three sets - Get Ready!, Get Set! and Let's Go!, each of which consists of two CDs.

Tested by Frederick Bird Primary School, Coventry

'The set of six CD-Roms takes children from the first steps of discriminating environmental sounds, such as a dog's bark, a cow's moo or a baby's cry, up to systematic, synthetic phonic work. They are organised to reflect and consolidate the progressive skills taught in Phases 1 to 3 of the Letters and Sounds programme in a fun and multi-sensory way. The children were very excited about using these resources on the interactive whiteboard. Clear and simple instructions for each activity are given verbally, so they quickly learn to access them independently. It is also a useful teaching tool for groups, as one is able to select activities for a wide range of abilities. We have many children who are just acquiring English language skills and we used the Get Ready set to focus on speaking and listening skills.

Our only concern is that the letters are grouped following the Jolly Phonics scheme, not the Letters and Sounds programme, which many schools are following. This made it a little more difficult to navigate to the letters we wanted to focus on each week.'

*****

 

EARLY YEARS ICT SERIES

SMART LEARNING
AGE RANGE: 3 - 5
PRICE: £135 per disc (single user)
CONTACT: 01223 477550
www.smart-learning.co.uk

The first disc covers All About Me, Traditional Stories and Journeys and Holidays. The second covers Mini Beasts and Life Cycles, Shape, Colour and Pattern, Celebrations and Festivals. Each topic covers three units for nursery and three units for reception. Activity sheets for non-computer ICT activities are also provided along with the teacher's book, which sets out the ICT and cross-curricular objectives.

Tested by Great Milton CE Primary School, Great Milton, Oxfordshire

'It has good links with very popular topics within early years and offers a clear introduction for whole-class teaching and discussion, followed by a choice of two activities for smaller group activities. It is very engaging and particularly good at keeping boys focused and on task. It proved effective with children who have speech and language difficulties, and the pictures were also helpful with EAL children, as they seem to be universal. It might be good to have labels for the more able children, though. It does seem quite a pricey product, but a good investment in that it covers many topics and links ICT to different areas of learning.'

****

 

OURSELVES THEME PACK

EARLY VISION
AGE RANGE: 3 - 5
PRICE: £45
CONTACT: 0845 3303186
www.earlyvision.co.uk

The pack contains an interactive CD-Rom, Ourselves Games, featuring the topics of visits to the dentist, optician, hairdresser and beautician, an audio CD of Songs and Music, an 80-page teacher handbook and laminated parents' information notice.

Tested by Horsenden Primary School, Greenford, Middlesex

'We found this supported the children in their understanding of topics that we cover frequently and gave them further ideas to include in their role play. The CD-Rom games held their attention and they engaged well with the interactive activities and enjoyed the wide choice of scenarios, although some of the games were a bit difficult, as the voice-over was too fast and changed too quickly when the mouse hovered over the text. As 80 per cent of our children are EAL, this enhanced their language skills. It would also be great for older children with special needs and language difficulties. It's good value because there are so many resources and ideas in one pack. The book would be helpful for somebody new to the early years environment.'

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WHIZ KID

VTECH
AGE RANGE: 3 - 6
PRICE: £49.99
CONTACT: 01235 546810
www.vtechuk.com

Whiz Kid offers up to 120 activities and is designed to encourage a wide range of skills, including reading, phonics, language, maths, logic and creativity. It comes complete with Wondertown software. The wireless touch-sensitive activity panel can be used on its own, away from the PC.

Tested by Worlds End Under-Five Centre, London SW10

'This product has lots of learning potential in an early years setting. It comes with 40 games cards, suitable for children from around two and a half to school age, with the option to buy more. Many of the cards are based on songs the children are familiar with and they enjoyed singing along with them. It provides a good preparation for school as it covers a wide area of the Foundation Stage and KS1, and is good value for money. However, I do question its sturdiness. One problem is that because the contact buttons are on the front, the children were continually turning it on and off. Also, the battery life is very short.'

***

 

MATHS CITY 1

2SIMPLE SOFTWARE
AGE RANGE: 3 - 5
PRICE: £29 (single user)
CONTACT: 0208 203 1781
www.2simpleshop.com

This covers the topics of transport, space, the farm, shops and outdoor play.

Tested by Castle Montessori Nursery, Berkhamsted, Herts

'The graphics are simple, clear and colourful and very appealing to the children. We particularly liked the support this program offers to the adult, with its section on suggestions for open-ended questions and vocabulary extensions. We would definitely consider buying this for our three- to five-year-olds.'

***

 

MONKEYS, DUCKS AND FROGS

SHERSTON
AGE RANGE: 3 - 5
PRICE: £39.95 (single user)
CONTACT: 01666 843200
www.sherston.com

This features three popular number songs children are encouraged to join in. The learning objectives cover recognising numbers one to five, using number names in order in familiar contexts, and relating subtraction to 'taking away'.

Tested by Abacus Nursery, Wakefield, Yorkshire

'This well-priced resource enhances mathematical, literacy, language and creative skills. As it requires lots of clicking and dragging it also helps children to develop their mouse control. We soon had a large group gathered around the computer.'

*****

 

SAY CHEESE! EARLY YEARS

SHERSTON
AGE RANGE: 3 - 5
PRICE: £34.95 (single user)
CONTACTS: as before

This is based around five structured activities, designed to teach and reinforce problematic and high frequency words that are considered easier to learn through sight recognition than phonics.

Tested by Abacus Nursery, Wakefield

'This was far too difficult for the children in our setting - we do not practise advanced reading skills. In our opinion, the age range stated on the box is incorrect. This is for older children and, therefore, not a good buy for a nursery.'

*

 

BEST BUY

Sharon Davidson, Early Years Co-ordinator, St Michael's School, Barnstaple, Devon

'Izzy's Island is a great favourite with the children and we like using it because it offers three levels according to age and ability. The Rhyming Tin is a really popular feature of this software. They love putting the words into the tin. Another favourite is 2Simple City, which is great for interactive activities, They include visiting the doctor, going to a cafe and doing the recycling. We particularly like the recycling activity - if you put the wrong thing in a recycling bin, it gets rejected.'

Izzy's Island, Sherston, £49.95 (single user), 01666 843200 www.sherston.com

2Simple City, 2Simple Software, £39 (single user), 020 8203 1781, www.2simpleshop.com.

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