- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 23, 2003

The award-winning PBS television series “Between the Lions” has demonstrated the joys of reading for three years. Geared toward children 4 to 7 years old, it uses plush characters, animation, live actors, songs and the occasional celebrity guest star to hone children’s literacy skills.

A complementary Web site features the same cast of cuddly animal hosts, including the big cat family of Lionel, Leona, Cleo and Theo, while transcribing the show into a virtual world that’s just as engaging.

Between the Lions

Site address: https://pbskids.org/lions

Creator: WGBH in Boston, a public broadcasting producer and the source of nearly one-third of PBS’ prime-time lineup and companion online content, as well as many public radio favorites, maintains the site.

Creator quotable: “We created this site to accompany the PBS Kids series “Between the Lions,” but it stands on its own as an award-winning resource featuring tons of great stories, fun games and funny songs, all designed to help kids learn to read. Information for caregivers on a variety of literacy topics is also available, as is Cornerstones (https://pbskids.org/lions/cornerstones), a project designed to help teachers of kids who are deaf and hard-of-hearing,” say Gentry Menzel, producer of Between the Lions online.

Word from the Webwise: Addressing the five key elements of reading instruction as outlined by the National Reading Panel: phonological and phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension, the site uses four main sections — Stories, Games, Thing to Print and Songs — to help children get wild about words.

First, under Stories, visitors will find every episode of the show encapsulated into the tale it features. Of the 70 available, each offers about eight simple pages to click through with big-print text, color illustrations using various art styles, definitions and audio pronunciation of some words to relay the plot.

In the case of “The Ram in the Pepper Patch,” readers learn about a Mexican girl who needs the help of a bee to evict a vegetable-munching animal from her garden. Words such as “Mexico,” “hen” and “big” are defined and spoken to the child.

Next up, Games provides challenges to befuddle the noggin. Of the nine available, I really enjoyed a stop by Gawain’s World, where Sir Ack jousts with another knight of the player’s choosing, for example, Sir Sn or Sir Bl. As they confront one another and gruffly pronounce their names, a new word is formed, “snack” or “black.”

Things to Print offers exactly that: 23 coloring pages of characters, 11 away-from-the-computer games, printable versions of all of the stories from the show, calendar pages, a clock and even bookmarks to use in a favorite book.

Finally, Songs presents 11 movie clips from the melodic show and 22 tunes in Real Player and Quicktime formats. Fans will find the theme song, a clip with Paula Abdul and a stop-motion cartoon devoted to the Vowel Boot Camp in this section.

Additionally, parents will appreciate a host of tips and curriculum guidelines to help their children master skills. A character named Cliff Notes appears at the bottom of almost every page to offer linked assistance to learning exercises that highlight a specific episode, a list of recommended books or information that describes the relevance of the game being played.

Ease of use: Four browser plug-ins, Shockwave 7, Flash 4, QuickTime 4 or RealPlayer G2, are needed to completely enjoy the site. However, many of the features — including all the stories, many games and tons of information for caregivers — require no plug-in.

Don’t miss: I loved the Songs section, especially a hilarious ode to homophones sung by Brian McKnight and Cleo Lion, and a new version of the “Alphabet Song” crooned by Leon Redbone, but the knowledge seeker in me recommends the Word Helper, which features more than 150 definitions and audio pronunciations of words accessed with a mouse click.

Family activity: While watching an actual episode from the show as a backdrop, up to four viewers can take part in a game of Betwingo. Found under the Things to Print section, this challenge features nine images in a Bingo-card layout. Players circle the characters on their playing cards as they see the same characters on the show. The first person to have a row, column or diagonal line of circled images shouts “Betwingo” to win.

Cyber-sitter synopsis: An avalanche of wordplay, letter recognition and stimulating on-screen shenanigans will give younger children every reason in the world to want to read and become addicted to the show.

Overall grade: A

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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