Nursery Rhymes

Author: Dave E
Publisher: Database
Machine: Acorn Electron

Published in EUG #49

As you may have guessed, this piece of software is aimed at very young children. The concept of using familiar characters to educate is not a unique one; for example, an entire series of Mr. Men titles exist. Here, it is Jack and Jill; Hickory Dickory Dock's mouse; the cat, fiddle and cow from Hey Diddle Diddle; Humpty Dumpty and characters from See Saw Marjory Daw teaching children basic recognition, reaction and spelling skills.

Noteably, Nursery Rhymes is one of the only educational programs both available on disk and tape. The originals come in small plastic bags with a card insert showing the afore mentioned characters but no instructions as such. This omission would not be important to anyone who had spent time with the Electron previously though, as I will shortly describe.

Of course, being on disc - and especially a disc which can run with PAGE at 1D00 - is very advantageous regarding loading time and 'detail' capabilities. Author Tim Davies has really used this advantage to the full and the first screen really sets the high standard to measure each of the sub-programs against.

Not only does it display all the characters from each program on a 'squashed clockface', a flashing pointing blob character 'ticks' around, displaying the name of the appropriate nursery rhyme underneath each of them in double size text. Also, each of the characters are animated! The cow is constantly leaping smoothly left to right, a seesaw rocks gently, the mouse runs up and down the clock and hitting SPACE moves on the blob. As RETURN can select the program he's pointing to, this makes for an engrossing and fetching Mode 5 menu system; a beloved equivalent of a PC package and visually no less modern.

So what of the programs themselves? Well, they're brilliant. Jack And Jill displays a countryside scene with an obligatory big hill and well - before writing at the bottom of the screen "Jack and Jill went up the hill" in the familiar double sized text. With a note keeping time, the colour of each word is changed until a word (chosen at random by the computer) is reached. There is a short pause and the text clears to the message "Type the word now". The word just reached must be typed to the keyboard. The caps lock functions have been disabled and the number of letters is limited to those of the original. If the input is wrong, the child is encouraged to say the letters out loud before continuing. If he/she is right, Jack and Jill move one step further up the hill. In each case the text now continues with "To fetch a pail of water".

Hickory Dickory Dock is the same idea but with time. A grandfather clock is displayed left; the time on its face changing and a multiple choice answer with four options presented to the right. The child chooses the wordy "Twenty five minutes to six" from the visual clock, being rewarded with the mouse trundling a little further up its side when he/she answers correctly.

Hey Diddle Diddle is the weirdest offering and is an arcade game featuring a permanently flying cow and a long row of empty milk bottles lining the bottom of the screen. You must fire the bottles at such a time as they hit the sailing milk machine and return ready for your milkman's rounds! You have three screens in which to fill as many of them as possible and if you manage to fill all of them on any screen, you are presented to the dish running away with the spoon!

Humpty Dumpty is a very simple shuffle game. You can view a picture of Humpty on his bed of pain and on beginning the program proper, it is split into nine pieces at the bottom of the screen. A grid of the finished picture (which is happily and surprisingly big) is presented and the child must choose each piece correctly in turn beginning with top left and ending with bottom right. Selecting a piece is with the Z and X keys and, indeed, many programs require the familiar Z, X, * and ? keys for operation hence my earlier comment that it is easy to fathom what to do so long as you've used your Electron as a games machine previously.

The one program that seems a little different is Seesaw. The blurb indicates that it is based on the nursery rhyme See Saw Marjory Daw; not as instantly recognisable as the others although it does sound familiar. In this, the child is shown a Mode 2 seesaw with a cartoon character expectantly sitting on one end. At the bottom of the screen are a number of icons sitting on one end. At the bottom of the screen are a number of icons representing characters who could be placed on the other to balance it. The correct child will choose the character identical to that displayed but facing in the opposite direction. Very simple.

A nice touch apart from the colourful sprites and animation in each program is the program's use of sound. Whenever any of the first four programs (as listed above) are completed, the full nursery rhyme is smoothly scrolled from left to right while the Electron merrily blasts out the accompanying music it is traditionally set to. Jack and Jill also go sprawling down the green expanse, Humpty plummets earthwards and the mouse races down to the ground!

At any time, hitting ESCAPE brings up the message 'Quit (Y/N)' and "Y" returns you to the main menu. As all the keys are well away from BREAK, this means children can be left alone without fearing that a slip of the fingers could reset the computer.

This tool really is untopable. It's professional, enjoyable, happy and bright while very easy to get to grips with. If there were more to grade it against on disc, it would be fairly certain to be the best. Certainly, it's head and shoulders above Database's Under 5 Fun School suite of programs.

Dave E

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