Preschoolers often learn to read first by learning to sound letters, then syllables, and finally complete words. A new program for Macintosh and IBM-compatible PCs may help them. With Alphabet Blocks, children can click with a mouse on letters they want to practice pronouncing. An animated character appears on the screen, says the sound, and clearly shows the way it's pronounced. After teaching a letter-sound, like D, the character will pronounce a D-word, like "dog," which appears next to an illustration.

Developed by Bright Star, a new subsidiary of game software maker Sierra On-Line Inc., the $50 program is aimed at two- to six-year-olds. Kids choose between two characters--either a monkey or a jack-in-the-box. Each leads little ones through word games and challenges them to identify words by their beginning letter-sound. Correct answers result in visual rewards, such as a band marching across the screen.

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