- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 13, 2002

Strategies ranging from toy giveaways to the use of catchy slogans have helped the food industry in its efforts to capture the consumer. Now the Internet gives food producers another avenue for bedazzling John Q. Public, as a company can cleverly highlight its line of products while also providing useful information.

Nestle's newest Web creation works to give parents a one-stop resource for finding the perfect creative exercise to enjoy with their children while it also sneaks in plenty of reasons to buy one of the company's hundreds of food and beverage products.

Very Best Kids

Site address: www.verybestkids.com

Creator:

Nestle USA, headquartered in Glendale, Calif., and in existence since 1900, introduced the site in November.

Creator quotable:

"One of the main things that sets VeryBestKids.com apart from other Web sites is the range of quality activities that encourage fun learning and time together," say Todd Manion and Becky Chao, co-creators of VeryBestKids.com for Nestle USA.

"In addition to making the activities easy to find and easy to follow, VeryBestKids.com specifies appropriate age ranges for each activity along with a detailed, step-by-step description, making it fun and enriching for both the parent and the child."

Word from the Webwise:

This celebration of creativity features almost 150 things to do with children that will keep them busy during the cold months ahead. VeryBestKids.com combines the off-line ideas of various educators, including Diana Berz, director of curriculum development for the award-winning Westwood Charter School in Los Angeles, with online games geared toward 3- to 10-year-olds.

The four primary sections "Crafts and Activities," "Holidays and Celebrations," "Cooking and Baking" and "Learning Fun" are fairly self-explanatory, and each houses a variety of bonding goodies to enjoy.

The simplest way to find something suited for any age is to peruse the voluminous table of contents. There parents can discover instructions for such projects as creating a family time capsule, baking some Gooey Baby Ruth Brownies or making a Sooper Dooper Lunch Surprise.

Extra options at the site allow visitors to register and store some of their favorite projects online and offer a way to type in a city name and find stuff to do in or near their town. A link for the District pulled up an item touting a visit to the National Zoo to see the new Sumatran tiger cub.

Ease of use:

The site was designed and tested to run on Windows 95 and later operating systems and Macintosh 9.1 with any of the following browsers using the Flash 4.0 plug-in: AOL 4.0 to 7.0, Internet Explorer 5.0 and 6.0, Netscape Navigator 4.01 to Netscape Communicator 4.7.

Don't miss:

Fifteen animated storybooks can be found under the "Read and Sing-Along" area under the helpful "Table of Contents." I got a grunt out of William Shakespig's tale "The Good, the Bad and the Porky," which features the history and residents of Pigsburg, Pigsylvania. Illustrations by David Leubke pepper the rhyming tale, which allows children to listen to a narrator while reading along with the on-screen text.

Family activity:

The entire site beckons mom, dad and the children to work together on a variety of projects. One of the neater ones involves building an indoor playhouse using some blankets, sofa cushions, pillows and the always-multifunctional box.

Cyber-sitter synopsis:

Nestle displays a diverse group of activities while pounding parents and children over the head with its product line. Almost anywhere a visitor looks on a page, a food item appears. Create that Sooper Dooper Lunch Surprise, and don't forget to include a Nestle Wonderball. Partaking in an animated storybook? Remember the sponsor, Nesquik. Even playing a simple game of bingo becomes "Nestlified" with the addition of Wonka Bottle Caps used as markers.

This blatant product placement may grate on adults' nerves, but Nestle also constantly promotes the concept of the family having fun together.

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 ([email protected]).


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