A slightly different format this month, as I look at six programs from Longman Software in their Early Learning series. Longman have built up a solid reputation as respected publishers of educational book materials, and they are now attempting to extend their success into the field of computer software, aimed particularly at the home market. The blurb on the attractive packaging tells us that 'each program is based on well-tried educational theories, brought alive by the creative wizardry of modern technology. Your children will be spellbound... The wonder of the computer, the power of its appeal and the balanced variety of games and activities will keep your child fascinated, absorbed and learning.'

Well, this certainly sounds good, but do the programs live up to these claims? The six programs fall into two distinct categories: a, b, c, ... Lift Off! and Wild Words aim to encourage word recognition and spelling while Countabout, Hot Dot Spotter, Sum Scruncher and Robot Runner try to develop counting and number skills. Each package contains a sheet of notes for parents giving easily followed instructions on loading the program and playing the game, as well as a very useful section, Other Things To Do, which suggests some additional (non computer) ways to encourage the specific learning activity.

The acquisition of literacy and numeracy skills is, of course, extremely important, and many parents, wishing to do their best for their children, purchase software which claim to stimulate children towards acquiring these skills. A word of caution for parents, however: you child's school is likely to have a carefully constructed syllabus for teaching letter and number work. If you are in any doubt about how to use a computer program to supplement this work, it might be a good idea to contact your child's teacher for a chat.