Attention, publishers of children's software: All little kids are endowed with the inalienable right to goof off now and then.

But many parents would be hard-pressed to consider this as they survey software aimed at the early elementary school set. Most of it is educational and, while it is often amusing and entertaining, it feels like school. Which, for a kid, is work.

So unless parents are willing to lead by example and do nothing on their home computers but return-on-investment and depreciation analyses, they should consider getting their little ones Putt-Putt Enters the Race, from Humongous Entertainment of Woodinville, Wash.

Available in both Mac and PC formats, Putt-Putt Enters the Race is the latest adventure for Putt-Putt, a purple convertible with a pet dog named Pep. The plot involves Putt-Putt entering the Cartown 500 race. But first, he must find several items, including high-octane gasoline and a crash helmet. His search takes him on a journey where he interacts with other characters, each some form of car, truck or power equipment.

If you won't sleep unless you find some educational merit in the software, rest easy: It teaches reasoning and exploration skills. But Putt-Putt is mostly about fun. The car exists in a cartoon world that looks and feels like Saturday morning fare, right down to a with-it soundtrack and sight gags that are boffo if you're 7 and seeing them for the first time.

And while parents are aware that boys and girls from 3 to 8 love to play with cars and trucks, they can take comfort in knowing that this fleet of vehicles won't be lurking on steps and around corners, waiting to trip an unwary adult.

The user interface is well-done and entirely cursor-driven. Put the cursor on the road and it moves Putt-Putt in the indicated direction. Put it on an object and the cursor changes to indicate that the object will do something if you click. The Giggle-to-Click Ratio is pretty high _ at least it was for a 52-year-old.

Humongous, with its other characters, including Pajama Sam, Freddi Fish and SPY Fox, does a consistently good job of amusing and entertaining as well as slipping in some thinking skills.

System requirements:

_PC: 90-megahertz Pentium or higher, 16 megabytes of RAM, quad-speed-or-better CD-ROM, 256-color SVGA monitor, Windows 3.1 or later. (Humongous deserves a pat on the back for designing it to run under Windows 3.1, realizing that not everyone is marching in the Windows 95/98 parade.)

_Mac: Power PC, System 7.1 or higher, 256-color display, 16 megabytes of RAM, quad-speed-or-better CD-ROM.

Putt-Putt Enters the Race retails at $29.99. Humongous Entertainment products are widely available at retail.

___

Web site: www.humongous.com.

___

Questions and comments are welcome. Mail to: CompuBug, P.O. Box 626, Summit, NJ 07901. Or e-mail via the Internet: Larry_Blasko(at)ap.org.