- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 15, 2005

Children who think they have a tough life juggling soccer practice with math homework and shopping at the mall can visit a cyber-stop that will quickly smack them back into reality.

The British Broadcasting Corp. created a site in 2002 to complement a television series exploring the lives of Queen Victoria’s subjects. Some of the most abused were children who were forced to work and learn in less-than-suitable conditions.

Through multimedia moments and interactive pages, middle schoolers can explore the lives of their 19th-century counterparts and understand just how different the world was then.

Children in Victorian Britain

Site address: www.bbc.co.uk/schools/victorians/

Creator: Karen Johnson commissioned the site for BBC Children’s Education division.

Creator quotable: “We intend [the site] to be engaging and to give insight into the lives of children. We want it to be accessible to as many schools as possible. We expect it to be used in lessons, on whiteboards and on desktops, and at home for reinforcement and to help parents to participate in their child’s learning,” says Miss Johnson, commissioning editor for BBC Children’s Education division.

Word from the Webwise: At the start of Queen Victoria’s reign, children as young as 5 years old routinely were put to work in coal mines, factories and as chimney sweeps as rapid industrialization helped ruthless employers take advantage of Britain’s youngsters. Laws were put into place to eliminate most of this type of slave labor by the time of the queen’s death in 1901.

This Web site’s sections quickly look at the Work, Play and School life of children from the era. Within each of the three modules, children 9 to 11 years old can fill the computer screen with a five-minute animated video pertaining to the section topic, play a few games and work away from the computer to reinforce the concepts learned.

For example, under School, visitors first watch a narrated montage explaining that it wasn’t until 1870 that it was required that every town and village have a school. Also, punishment was severe for the non-attentive student in the classroom, and those making inkblots on paper were beaten. Private schools often were moneymaking ventures rather than educational institutions, and most rich families used a governess to teach.

Visitors then can read excerpts from an 1880s logbook from the Milton House Public School in Edinburgh by clicking on a virtual monograph.

Next, one challenge requires a player to click on eight items in a typical schoolroom from Victorian times. The visitor then must read about them and determine which four do not belong in the time period and drag them into the trash. A second challenge tells the player to identify disciplines that were taught to boys only and girls only.

Finally, a two-page activity sheet can be printed out that has the child answer questions about what he thinks it would be like for an 11-year old former chimney sweep named Bert to adapt to going to school.

Ease of use: The flexible site has been designed to work as easily with Macromedia Flash technology as without. The best-looking presentation, however, will require the multimedia plug-in as well as Real Player to enjoy some audio clips.

Don’t miss: I sneaked over to the Parents area and the Useful Links section to find a fun game, A Walk Through Time (bbc.co.uk/history/walk/ games_index.shtml). The challenge has players look at scenes from a 1950s living room, Roman street, viking house, Tudor street and Victorian street and drag items that do not belong from each period into a time vacuum. Choices always lead to pop-up boxes that describe the item or individual and give some historical information.

Family activity: Under the Play section, students can take a break from exploring the oppressive lives of Victorian children by learning how to play a game of hopscotch. Visitors view how to set up an eight-square game surface and the rules via a series of photographs (available in two sizes) and text.

Cyber-sitter synopsis: This quick-to-digest site, filled with educational nuggets, will make junior think twice the next time he complains about his lack of video-game time.

Overall grade: B+

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. 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 (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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