Chris Johnston finds an on-line visit to Teletubby Land can be quite educational Not content to be seen only on television, Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po are now conquering cyberspace. The Teletubbies Website is one of the BBC's most popular programme-related sites, with about 80,000 hits a day, making some 2.3 million visitors a month.
This number has increased significantly since the site was redesigned last month to include features such as an interactive story and new games. As well as helping Noo-noo, the vacuum cleaner, tidy up the Tubby toast, and saying Tubby bye-byes, users can help Po ride her scooter, play hide-and-seek with the characters and find out who spilt the Tubby custard.
The site, launched in April, is the first from the BBC to be dedicated to under-fives, and is introducing a generation of young children to the Internet, even if they may not realise it yet. Designed for children, there are different activities for different age groups.
Bill Thompson, who wrote the site's parents' guide, says toddlers will enjoy using the mouse to move around, play the games and use the Make-and-Do section. Three to five-year-olds will like to be in control themselves and will soon let parents know which areas interest them most, he adds.
Regularly updating the content and featuring a child's Teletubby drawing each week are ways of encouraging users to return.
The colourful characters, flowers and green grass backdrop make the site visually appealing and the production values reflect those of the television programme.
The Teletubbies site is one of a growing number from the BBC aimed at under-fives and primary-age children. A recent addition for four to eight-year-olds is the Little Animals Activity Centre. It has games, stories and activities that reinforce what children have learned at school. Characters such as Digby Mole host several word games and Count Hoot does the honours for the number games. Likewise, the characters DynaMo and SloMo host the BBC's new multimedia home-learning service, DynaMo. The pair are found on the DynaMo Website, as well as in accompanying books and television programmes. The service is designed to help parents improve the literacy and numeracy skills of five to nine-year-olds.
These two sites, like most others from BBC Education, have sound effects and animation to engage children's interest and balance the educational content with entertainment.
Striking that balance and trying to give children an experience on-line, rather than just collecting information, is what the BBC aims to do, says Kate Vahl, a primary Web producer. "You can't have too much text - in order to communicate educational ideas you need to frame them in an imaginative way."
The challenge is to engage children with simple, clear, colourful ideas while providing resources for teachers, she says. The primary sites focus on literacy and numeracy and some, such as the new Listen and Write for nine to 11-year-olds, include lesson plans that show teachers how they can be used in the literacy hour or for general classroom use.
Most of the sites can be used off-line by saving the pages on your computer's hard disk, so you don't have to run-up your phone bill. Kate Vahl says the BBC wants to offer teachers CD-Rom type resources to attract more of them to the sites. Schools can also e-mail stories, poems, pictures and other material to be posted on the Web.
The BBC is increasing the number of primary Websites as more schools go on-line, so that when all are connected there should be an rich array of material. The other intention is to offer schools a service that will encourage more to get Internet access.
The BBC's vast resources mean that its on-line services can and should be rich. Kate Vahl says the aim is to offer sites that are unique and make use of the latest technology. "We want to make sure that the resources we produce are truly useful to schools."
You can visit the BBC's Learning Station at http: www.bbc.co.ukeducationschools