- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 20, 2004

The oldest and largest nonprofit literacy organization in the United States began when former teacher Margaret McNamara gave a bag of used books to four boys in the District 38 years ago. Her belief that “reading is fundamental” has been both a battle cry and her organization’s moniker ever since.

Just one part of RIF’s free literacy resources extends into cyberspace through a colorful Web site designed to excite children about reading through games and loads of activities.

Reading Planet

Site address: www.rif.org/readingplanet/

Creator: Reading Planet was created by the nonprofit Reading Is Fundamental, located in the District, through a partnership with the Coca-Cola Co.

Creator quotable: “The RIF Reading Planet offers kids a fun, colorful world of reading activities. RIF’s mission is motivating children to read, and we created the site knowing we can extend our message to a huge online audience of children and families,” says Heidi Okla, RIF manager of online communication.

“The RIF Reading Planet is an advertising-free place where kids, parents and teachers can share their love of books and develop a lifelong love of reading.”

Word from the Webwise: Through a bright, cartoony and multicolored opening page, the site’s mascot, Riffington, a large, blue, furry Muppet-like creature, gives children 5 to 12 years old the choice of entering the Activity Lab, Game Station, Book Zone or Express Yourself to motivate a new generation of bookworms.

The site works hard to get children involved online by asking for their opinions or creative input for others to enjoy and then directs them away from the computer by establishing the importance of selecting and curling up with a good book.

In the Activity Lab, visitors are offered the chance to take part in contests, print a story and illustrate it, access clip art for a school project, print a monthly calendar with reading ideas listed every day and use a search engine to find more than 30 projects.

The Book Zone features interviews with nine authors and illustrators; the chance to read along, listen to or even sing along to five animated stories; and the ability to browse a book list by using a search box containing 38 categories.

The Game Station maintains the theme of interaction. For example, the Super Sorter asks visitors multiple-choice questions and provides book and activity recommendations. Also in Game Station, Poetry Splatter challenges players to drag words into sentences while looking for the perfect rhymes, and a personalized Story Maker has young authors designing a work of art by dragging and dropping elements onto a page. The author then answers questions to create a unique tale accompanied by a mixed-medium illustration suitable for color printing.

Finally, Express Yourself acts as the site’s community section. Here, visitors can review books, ask Riffington a question, e-mail a postcard to a pal or participate in the creation of an online story; they will get first name, age and hometown credits listed for their contribution.

Ease of use: This site requires the Macromedia Flash plug-ins for full participation.

Don’t miss: Under the Game Station, visitors can build their own word-search puzzles through the easy-to-use Word Builder. Amateur game developers can choose from an existing word list for such topics as space, sports or geography or make up one as they place letters in rectangles on the board to lay out 10 words. Once placed, clicking on an icon fills in the empty spaces with random letters, and the search can be printed out.

Family activity: Children can find more than 30 activities away from the computer through a search engine tuned by age group and including categories such as Exploring Nature and Rainy Day Fun. Examples of clan-participation projects and games include making an edible alphabet, creating a time capsule and playing license-plate bingo when on a long trip.

Cyber-sitter synopsis: The site keeps children interested through its interactive design while keeping parents busy as they participate in activities, including driving junior to the library or bookstore.

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 ([email protected]washingtontimes.com).

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