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Children Can Get Free Reading, Music Lessons Online

January 31, 2002|CHRISTINE FREY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There are dozens of software programs to help children develop learning skills, but they are often costly.

The Internet, however, offers a number of educational Web sites that parents can access for free or a minimal fee.

Two such sites, StoryPlus and Sesame Street Music Zone, debuted late last year and help children with reading and music.

StoryPlus

StoryPlus features original fiction for children ages 2 to 15.

Designed to promote literacy, the site--founded by Jean Chalopin, creator of Inspector Gadget--offers stories in text, illustrated text and animated forms at www.storyplus.com.

Text and illustrated stories can be downloaded as PDF files or printed from the site.

Animated stories--such as "The Princess and the Pea Test 10024B," one author's take on the children's classic--can be downloaded or sent via e-mail.

As a narrator reads the story, characters move on an illustrated book page. The accompanying text changes color when each word is spoken.

Children can access half a dozen stories free. The remaining stories, updated monthly, cost about $1 each.

The site also offers subscriptions via e-mail. Receive one story a month for one year or two stories a month for six months for $18.

Stories are offered in English and French.

Before they are posted online, all of the stories on the site are reviewed by a group of children who vote on their favorites. Those that do not receive high enough ratings are dropped.

"We apply the rules of television and video games to children's literature," Chalopin said. "It's a competitive world. We want to make sure the children like [the stories]."

The StoryPlus Network, of which the site is a part, was established by Chalopin last year to promote literacy worldwide.

Sesame Street

A recent addition to Sesame Street's Web site promotes music education for children ages 3 to 6.

Although most children are not exposed to music until elementary school--or sometimes even high school--studies have shown that music plays a key role in brain development, said Joe Lamond, president and chief executive of the NAMM-International Music Products Assn., which collaborated with Sesame Street to produce Music Zone.

The site, which can be found at www.sesamestreet.com, is broken down into four sections.

In Musical Places, children can visit the city, farm, harbor or orchestra and learn to associate sounds with the animals and objects that produce them.

Song Bites teaches children that songs are composed of bars of music.

When Cookie Monster takes a bite out of a song, the child must determine which bar should replace it so the song plays correctly.

In Global Groove, Oscar the Grouch plays a jukebox of instruments from around the world, banjo to bagpipe.

And at the Sesame Street Opera, children can create their own stage performance. Choose a setting for the opera--Egypt, the desert or a medieval castle--and determine the order in which the characters will perform.

Once the choreography is complete, the child can watch the three acts unfold on the computer screen.

In addition to exploring the musical activities, parents can request a "Music Works" video, available in both English and Spanish, at the site as part of Sesame Street's three-year music education initiative.

Access to the online features and video is free.

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Christine Frey covers personal technology. She can be reached at christine.frey@latimes.com.

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