Does this mean a head start in life? "An 18-month-old child is well into single-word sentences, and with the right toys can have a lot of fun sorting shapes and symbols," says Charles Desforges, professor of education at University of Exeter. But that does not answer the question as to why use a computer. "There are so many better ways to spend your second year, like being with people or playing in the garden," says Professor Desforges.
The program covers the alphabet, numbers, shapes and colours. We tried it with 20-month-old children in an office with plenty going on and it got no more attention than anything else happening around us. According to Professor Desforges, parents must be relaxed and have fun with their child. This becomes difficult as you struggle to keep your toddler on your lap and away from the mouse cable.
Sorting shapes actually works less well on the computer at this age than when played with a post box-type toy, and we all preferred counting toes to counting turtles on screen. There is an ABC game that teaches letter names - letter sounds would be more useful. This is not as clever as programs such as Sherston's Talking Animated Alphabet at linking letter shapes to letter sounds.
The toddlers disc is one of several Jump Ahead titles, each aimed at a narrow age group. Sierra has the same idea with its Adibo range and both publishers are clearly hoping that brand loyalty will retain customers.
Not all the Jump Ahead titles have been localised for the UK. Currently, there are four titles - a pre-school program (aimed at children of three to four) and starting school program (four to five) which continue the themes, and a talking encyclopaedia called Discovery Tree for children aged four to eight.
For random learning, this is an enjoyable program which children can explore on their own. It's a disc to sit back and enjoy. It works less well as an encyclopaedia to help with school work. There is a index of sorts, but not one where you can easily look up a word such as electricity or habitats. Information does not always tie in with that required for national curriculum studies.
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