Families Can Visit The 'Cybrary' For Best of the Web

I found some great children's sites on the Internet the other day. And I did it with the help of librarians.

The American Library Association has put together a cyber-collection of more than 700 fun and useful Web sites for children. A "cybrary," if you will.

There's more to say about the cybrary. But first, a look at some of the more intriguing children's sites.

For example, have you ever wondered how to encourage a child's interest in music? The Garden State Pops Youth Orchestra (www.gspyo.com) lets users listen to various musical instruments. There's a calendar that lists important music events for each day of the year and even a tutorial on how to read music.

One of my favorite children's art sites is called "A. Pintura: Art Detective" (www.eduweb.com/pintura). By moving through its interactive mysteries, children can learn art concepts and history. The Case of Grandpa's Painting, for example, had me helping the ace sleuth figure out which famous artist painted his client's grandfather's mystery painting. Along the way, I learned about Titian, Millet, and the use of perspective and composition.

I'm not sure what to call "Dav Pilkey's Web Site O' Fun" (www.pilkey.com), other than it's off-the-wall funny and appealing to children. The author and illustrator has put up a site with a hilarious cartoon version of his childhood, instructions on "How 2 Draw a Dumb Bunny," and directions on creating intriguing paper airplanes.

Not all children should be on the Web, says Walter Minkel, chairman of the library association's Notable Children's Web Site Committee. In his own work as technology trainer for the Multnomah County Library in Portland, Ore., he's found that before fourth grade, most children don't have the patience or skills to navigate the Web. Young children are better served by age-appropriate CD-ROM software, he says. Thus, many of the association's sites are aimed at fourth- through eighth-graders.

One of Mr. Minkel's favorite science sites is "The Nine Planets" (seds.lpl.arizona.edu/nineplanets/nineplanets/nineplanets.html). It's a delightful tour of the solar system that's easily accessible to children (if the earth were a grape, Jupiter would be a large grapefruit). But it doesn't shrink from explaining why Mars didn't evolve an atmosphere while Earth did (hint: plate tectonics).

If homework is the order of the day, go directly to the American Library Association's site listed above and click on the "People Past and Present" sections. I found ancient Greek artifacts (www.museum.upenn.edu/Greek_World/Intro.html) and a wonderful online look at Abraham Lincoln Online (www.netins.net/showcase/ creative/lincoln.html).

I even came across a cultural awareness program, called "Kid's Window," that introduces Japan to American children. One section called "Let's Discover Kanji!" reveals the intriguing logic behind some of the written Japanese characters.

The site at www.jwindow.net/KIDS is part of the Japan Window Project at Stanford University. So people who access the site would have a reasonable expectation the information would be accurate and appropriate. But how about all that other stuff on the Internet?

"You're going to need librarians" in cyberspace, Mr. Minkel says. "You can find 10,000 sites on something, but who is going to tell you which one of those sites is going to be a good one?"

The American Library Association's teams sorted through an estimated 50,000 sites to come up with its 700 good ones. You can find them all listed at www.ala.org/parentspage/greatsites or at a companion site (www.ala.org/alsc/ ncwc.html).

* Send comments to lbelsie@ix.netcom.com or visit my "In Cyberspace" forum at www.csmonitor.com

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