Make Sam Smile is the general title of a new series of educational programs for young children of four years and above. All the programs feature Sam - a friendly little chap who's very sad, but easily pleased by getting the right answers to his questions. The programs have been designed sensibly so that only the Spacebar and Return key are required to enter the responses.
1. Word Matching In this program Sam introduces himself - I quite took to him! - then draws an empty box and a familiar object with its name printed above it. In Game 1 words are placed randomly in the box until the correct match is obtained. Game 2 progresses so that the word disappears and is replaced by dots indicating the number of letters. The object remains, and incorrect responses to words appearing in the box cause successive levels of the object word to appear, while in Game 3 the object word disappears and is not replaced by dots.
In all the games, the Space Bar is pressed to reject an incorrect match, and Return to accept a correct match between the work in the box and the object below it. When the latter occurs, the bottom of the box is removed and the word falls down to cover the matching word and the caterpillar at the bottom of the screen moves towards the leaf. When the child has achieved five correct answers, the caterpillar moves behind the leaf and emerges as an attractive butterfly, which flies off across the screen.
The idea of using the computer's graphics to match words is a good one for young children. While the shape and size of the letters are good, as are the quite dainty pictures, the screen becomes akin to a multicoloured swopshop, with jazzy borders and textured colour and candystriped patterns on the letters.
The screen was further cluttered by a box containing some barely legible instructions for pressing the Spacebar and the Return key - not really required! As for those percentage scores for four year olds - perhaps they were to boost the parent's ego.
2. Spelling This program also consists of three games - using the same nineteen words - which work in the same way as Word Matching except that individual letters are matched. It is, to my mind, a simple letter-matching exercise, which doesn't make any attempt to build words either by making use of sound or letter shape combinations. The criticism of the graphics overall also apply.
3. Counting Four games this time, or actually two pairs of two. Game 1: a random number (between 1 and 10) of objects appear and large numbers above cycle through 1 to 10. Game 2: the number of objects cycle and the number remains constant. Game 3: in this game, two sets of objects appear in the box and the sum must be matched against the number which cycles from 1 to 10. Game 4 is similar to 3 except the number of objects changes while the number remains fixed.
Again, the little drawings were delightful, but the large numbers really looked as if they'd been drawn on squared paper - and those candy stripes again! Surely, at this stage we should be trying to link with what the youngsters are going to see in print and have to copy themselves - artistic licence later, perhaps?
The first and last programs could be usefully "cleaned up" but are somewhat limited - particularly at the price. The first program would be of greater benefit if parents/teachers were able to generate their own files of words for children to use - the next stage of matching words without pictures to help.