- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 22, 2001

My son has introduced me to a new group of friends.

The Szadkowski bunch now includes a blue dog, a fellow with a penchant for construction, a girl who loves exploring, and a curious turtle. I am referring, of course, to Nick Jr., an offshoot of the Nickelodeon cable channel. It has become a staple in my household, with a lineup of popular shows such as "Blue's Clues," "Bob the Builder," "Dora the Explorer" and "Franklin the Turtle."

A newly redesigned Web site from the Nickelodeon group acts as a conduit among television, parents and children to allow them to interact with familiar characters and each other in an animated land filled with fun.

NickJr.com

Site address: www.nickjr.com

Creator:

The NickJr.com site was created by New York-based Nickelodeon Online, the Internet division of Nickelodeon, which is a business unit of MTV Networks, a Viacom company.

Creator quotable:

"We created NickJr.com to be a resource for parents and an exciting first Web experience for their preschool children. Nick Jr. already has earned the trust and love of millions of preschool families. Our site brings the brand's innovative, educational and interactive qualities to the Web for parents and their kids to share together," says Kyra Reppen, general manager of NickJr.com.

Word from the Webwise:

NickJr.com is packed with online games, storybooks and activities presented in a colorful and constantly moving and grooving environment.

Divided into two areas Nick Jr. Playtime for 2- to 6-year-olds and Nick Jr. Parents for grown-ups the site instantly familiarizes both adult and child with the cable channel's educational broadcasts. I focused on the Playtime area and quickly found more than 50 games and a multitude of places to keep everyone occupied.

Face, the master of ceremonies for the cable broadcasts, is a constant presence on the site's pages. Face happily announces what users have selected as they move into and out of various sections, including "Stories," "Art" and "Music." He also encourages the family to "Please stand by" whenever an activity loads.

Areas for major characters Blue, Dora, Franklin, Little Bear and Little Bill contain wonderful animated elements as well as painting programs, stories, games and character introductions.

Games attempt to merge cable shows with Internet activity when possible. For example, in Paint Blue's Wagon, children explore color identification and how to mix primary colors to create secondary colors, which was discussed in Episode 107 of "Blue's Clues."

Parent and child can watch the TV show together and then reinforce the educational experience on the computer. While this method generally is a good idea, grown-ups will find cross-referencing the games to the broadcast episodes a bit tedious. The site designer should have created a clearer path from the stories and activities on the site to the information on the related TV program.

Here's one quick navigation tip to help decipher episode numbers: When passing the mouse over the schedule in the grown-ups' area, a link path should appear at the bottom of the browser window. The episode number should be at the end of this string.

Other games worth a look include the Nick Jr. Phone, in which children can call their favorite Nick Jr. characters; Periwinkle's Disappearo, featuring a cat that loves to perform magic tricks; and the Little Bear Dress-Up Game.

Additionally, parents can steer children to activities that are not laden with branded characters a nice touch. In particular, the family will enjoy the Singing Sunflowers or a tune-packed Radio found in the "Music" section.

Mom and Dad also will want to check out Nick Jr. Parents for everything from setting up superhero birthday parties to painting faces to creating tissue-paper flowers.

Ease of use:

The big question when visiting multimedia extravaganzas such as NickJr.com is: Can the site be enjoyed through a slow connection? Thankfully, even on a 28.8k throughput modem, load times in the Playtime area are not excruciating, so children will stay happy.

Parents should make sure they have the latest browser software package, which usually will contain Macromedia's Flash and Shockwave plug-ins as well as Real Player or Windows Media Player for many of the activities on the site.

Don't miss:

The stories in the children's section are great tales that can be enjoyed on the computer or printed out. A favorite on the site, "Captain Brainstorm's Adventure," combines storytelling and game play. In this partially animated presentation, Little Bill and Captain Brainstorm take a trip to the planet Yubba to save stranded space explorers from the monstrous Robotcha.

Family activity:

Nick Jr. Parents has hundreds of things to do away from the computer. Under the "Do-Togethers" section, the entire clan can find fun recipes, arts, crafts and games.

Two favorites that my family will tackle soon are how to make a papier-mache pinata and a Bob the Builder birthday cake. Detailed instructions, lists of materials and recipes make these projects easy and stress-free.

Cyber-sitter synopsis:

The jaded reviewer might see this site as one huge advertisement for Nick Jr., but the amount of care and expertise put into the activities and the reinforcement of learning concepts take the site to a higher level. Yes, I could do without the banner advertisements or online store, but the site has plenty to do for everyone from the littlest to the oldest Nick Jr. fan. As a "lap site" one for which baby sits with parents it provides activities that are instantly recognizable and engaging.

Overall grade: A

Remember: The information on the Internet changes constantly, and children's surfing habits should be monitored. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (joseph@twtmail.com).

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