The Shoe People logo

Gremlin Graphics £25.99
Recommended for ages 4 to 6

Sarah Williams tries out the latest batch of educational releases.

Those leathery - but very friendly - children's cartoon characers, The Shoe People, have brought some genuine fun to the younger children's National Curriculum in this excellent double disk package on Gremlin's brand new First Class label.

Many skills essential for early success at school are exercised, including memory, recognition of shapes, colours and patterns, and knowledge of the alphabet, numbers and words.

There are three activities on each disk, all aimed at the four to six age group. Each has various levels of difficulty. Those on Disk One are Trampy visits his Friends, Sgt Major Sorts It Out, and Margot's Magic Colouring Book, while Disk Two offers The Great Alphabet Robbery, Wellington Goes to the Park and Charlie's Big Day.

Trampy visits his friends features friendly vagrant Trampy, who has a remarkable number of friends in Shoe Town. The trouble is, he only get to see them at the end of his eventful journey if the young student is good at matching objects and finding or spelling the correct words.

It starts with the simple matching of objects encountered by Trampy as he tramps his way towards a meeting with Sergeant Major, and progresses to typing in the names of objects with no help from the computer as Trampy heads for a chin-wag with the Marshall.

Sgt. Major Sorts It Out stars Baby Bootee, who has brought chaos to Sergeant Major's store by knocking everything off the shelves. Now he has to put things back in the right places.

There are two levels, Easy and Hard. With Easy, each shelf already has the first object on it. In Hard, the shelves have to be allocated by the child. Baby Bootee automatically points to the object he wants placing on a shelf. Pressing the spacebar makes Sgt Major's baton point at each shelf in turn. When the correct shelf is indicated, the young student hits the Return key.

Margot's Magic Colouring Book is a very basic paint program operated by keyboard or mouse, though I'm sure young children will find it very exciting as they fill shapes in one of five ready-drawn pictures with colours, or create their own drawings from scratch. Pictures can be saved to disk and printed.

The Great Alphabet Robbery is one for PC Boot! That shifty sole(!) Sneaker is trying to escape after stealing the letters of the alphabet. The aim of this exercise is for the child to recognise words and letters, so far encountered in other Shoe People activities.

Wellington Goes to the Park offers five choices for the basis of the game - blocks, more blocks, single dice, double dice and numbers. A dice or numbers appear on one side of a see-saw.

If the child recognises the number on the dice, or adds numbers together correctly, the see-saw cracks into the perfectly balanced position and Wellington jumps up and down in a puddle, covering himself with mud. If the answers are incorrect, a cloud appears and rinses Wellington clean.

Charlie's Big Day has the clown perform easy, medium or hard tricks, according to the child's initial choice. When Easy is selected, the student is asked what trick Charlie did first. If this is answered correctly, Charlie performs the same trick again, followed by another one. Now the child is child is asked to recall the two tricks, and so on to as large a sequence of tricks as possible.

If Medium is selected, the tricks are generated randomly each time. With Hard, Charlie performs a whole sequence of tricks twice, and then begins a third. The child is asked which trick completes the sequence. If the answer is correct, then every other turn another trick is added to the sequence. One or two adults - including me - have had trouble with this one!

All in all, The Shoe People is an ideal debut program from the First Class label. All selections, except when running Margot's Magic Colouring Book with the mouse, are made very easily by hitting the biggest key on the keyboard, the spacebar. Each time it's hit, an arrow moves on to the next choice. The choice is then executed by the second biggest key, Return.

Young children will love the graphics and the sound effects, particularly the sound of the Shoe People clumping along, as well as the noises made when Charlie bangs his drum, spins plates on sticks and performs other wonders.

And to add even more value, the package also includes a Shoe People book, The Shoe Town Gold Rush, worth 85p, and a badge featuring one of the Shoe People.

One special note for teachers - the package is aimed at National Curriculum attainment targets one to three.

The Shoe People logo

GBH * £7.99

This one, from the rather violent-sounding GBH, is not in fact a puzzle game, but an educational piece of interactive software which enables your kid (or anyone else's, presumably) to learn simple words.

The hosts for the this slice of what has horrifically been described as 'edutainment' are the Shoe People. They're a cheerful bunch who, staying true to their name, resemble items of quality footwear. Each, of course, has a name and a personality (much like your favourite clogs in real life) and the child has to guide them through a whole series of adventures. The wee 'uns can only progress, though, if simple spelling and recognition tests are completed successfully.

The whole things is very bright, colourful and attractively presented. It's been child-proofed as much as possible, and it comes with a small, but comprehensive manual explaining what the interacting child should be getting out of each stage, and what he or she will be learning.

Without extensive testing on children, it's difficult to gauge the effectiveness of games software such as this, but it's certainly of the highest quality, and clearly takes the child through basic spelling and then on to slightly more advanced levels in word construction. Your kids will love it.

The Shoe People logo

First Class £9.99

Dragged kicking and screaming from the sand pit, Steve Prizeman looks at the current state of educational software.

Recently released as a budget title by Gremlin Graphics, The Shoe People is based on the 'award winning cartoon series' - which I freely admit to never having heard of. If your four to six year-olds are fans, however, and even if they're not, they are sure to enjoy this varied package of activities.

Geared towards meeting the guidelines of the now ubiquitous National Curriculum, The Shoe People contains five games and a simple drawing and colouring program. In the drawing section, kids can even save their drawings to disk, print them (if you printer's up to it, of course), or print out the selection of line drawings included for old-fashioned felt-tip and crayon style colouring-in.

The games all feature Shoe People, like Trampy, PC Boot, Wellington, Baby Bootee, and Sergeant Major. They help introduce kids to the basics of English, maths, shapes and patterns through a series of tasks such as associating words with objects, spelling those words, differentiating between upper and lower letters, arranging similar blocks in groups, and solving simple anagrams. Different levels of difficulty are available for each game, allowing a clear path of development for a child to follow.

As the game is aimed at such young children, Clever Clogs (Shoe Town's Educational Adviser), makes no bones about recommending that 'grown-ups' go through the game together with the kiddies in their charge. That shouldn't be too hard a task: the pleasing graphics, amusing little animations, good music and sound effects make this a highly entertaining package.

This pleasingly presented software, giving excellent value for money is an easy-to-use introduction to both computers and the basic skills necessary at infants' school. The Shoe People - educational software with sole (Groan!).