- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 15, 2004

A brainy aardvark has been teaching preschoolers about friendship and growing up through fun adventures chronicled in books, video and song for the past 25 years.

Created by author Marc Brown, the precocious Arthur and his pals also have spent eight years on a daily animated show on PBS. A Web site that complements the show provides a multimedia cyber-stop sure to thrill Arthur’s audience.

Arthur

Site address: www.pbskids.org/arthur

Creator: The Kids’ Interactive Group of public broadcasting producer WGBH Boston, the source of one-third of PBS’ prime-time lineup, has been updating the site since 1996.

Creator quotable: “We created this site to extend Arthur’s world online with original games and great off-line activities. These days, the site is as busy as Elwood City’s Sugar Bowl on a Saturday afternoon. Kids are building aliens, writing letters, becoming detectives, scooping ice cream and even delivering it by bike before it melts. With more than 2.5 million kids coming through our doors each month, we’re always cooking up something new,” says Bill Shribman, executive producer of the Web site.

Word from the Webwise: Fourteen friends offer their favorite activities through a Web site that will keep the preschool crowd busy for days while enjoying the Arthur animated series.

Visitors can navigate the colorful designs easily by clicking on one of the characters at the bottom of the introductory screen or by clicking on the Friends section, located on the right-side menu.

Each of Arthur’s buddies, including Muffy, Prunella, baby aardvark Kate and Brain the bear, has his or her own page, containing online games, away-from-the-computer activities, a list of favorite books, a printable coloring page and a trading card sporting a color picture of the friend along with a favorite joke.

For example, Buster Baxter’s page features games, including Connect the World: An International Card Game. In this game, the white rabbit challenges a player to match cards related to a country’s sport, flag, music and food in a Bingo-like presentation. Those who wish to learn more about the countries highlighted — United States, Mexico, Russia, Turkey, Japan, India, Kenya and Australia — can click on the About the Cards link.

Or, there’s the Scoop challenge, which has the child help Buster create strange but sweet delicacies for his customers at the ice cream shop. The player must memorize a list of ingredients and then correctly click them together, which leads to receiving tips for good service and a belch from Buster, who always is offered a taste of the creations.

Buster also offers a multiple-choice exercise in problem solving and recommends reading the “UFO Diary” by Satoshi Kitamura.

In addition to the 14 friends’ pages, another 12 characters from the show have areas that contain more trading cards, coloring pages and book lists.

Ease of use: Visitors should use a fairly speedy Internet connection for their Windows and Mac platforms, a browser version 4.0 or later and the latest Macromedia Flash and Shockwave plug-ins.

Don’t miss: Of the 24 games available on the site, I particularly enjoyed the Music Box hosted by Arthur. The challenge involves listening to musical selections, including the show’s theme song, while putting together six animated puzzles by dragging and dropping pieces onto a grid.

Family activity: An avalanche of away-from-the-computer fun can be had when parents follow the Grown-Ups link to the TV Listings link and end up in the Episode List area. A synopsis is provided for each show from the past eight seasons, and numerous links take visitors to extracurricular projects that range from imitating animals to participating in a balloon ballet to experimenting with magnets.

Cyber-sitter synopsis: The site’s perfect blend of educational and engaging activities will keep children 4 to 8 years old looking forward to a daily visit to Arthur’s cyber-world.

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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