Mister Rogers' website named one of the best

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When Fred Rogers welcomed us to his neighborhood in 1967, television was the only medium for reaching the masses. Now, Mister Rogers' teachings and inspiration are always available thanks to a website developed at the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media at Saint Vincent College near Latrobe.

Last week, the site -- ele.fredrogerscenter.org -- was named One of America's Great Websites for Kids by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association.

"There is a range of sites out there for parents and caregivers, so this brings a certain degree of quality and trustworthiness that we feel is warranted," said Michael Robb, director of education and research at the Rogers center.

The site was selected based on a set of demanding criteria: appealing, uncluttered design and graphics; ease of navigation; relevant subject matter; current information; an enriching user experience; stated authorship with a place for user comments; and more.

Launched in April, the site is geared toward parents, caregivers and teachers of children from birth to age 5. It offers free ideas to enhance literacy and school readiness through online apps, activities, videos, music and other materials from the Internet. The site's content is provided by several recognizable expert partners, such as Reading is Fundamental, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Sesame Workshop and more.

"We are trying to make all of the resources available to low-income and underserved caregivers," Mr. Robb said.

So far, the site has had about 25,000 visitors, and 1,000 members are part of its online community for caregivers.

Several foundations and organizations fund development and maintenance of the site.

Visitors to the site are welcomed by its animated avatar, "Ele" -- pronounced Ellie and derived from the words "early learning environment" -- who says, "I'm so happy you're here," an introduction that may sound familiar to those who grew up watching "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."

Caregivers can click on the activities bar along the bottom of the page. For each activity, the appropriate age, a user rating and its importance are listed.

One activity is an app called Super Home Hero. It was developed by a former Rogers Center fellow and children's media researcher, LaToye Adams. It tells caregivers how they can use an everyday task, such as laundry, as an opportunity to explore math, science and critical thinking. Added to the site last month, the app has had more than 2,000 users, Ms. Adams said.

The site was tested locally with the help of families, early-learning teachers and home-based care providers.

The Pittsburgh Association for Education of Young Children helped coordinate some of the testing with local families and caregivers.

"We had about 10 parents and 12 to 15 providers test the site for a period of about a couple months," said Michelle Figlar, the group's executive director. Ms. Figlar also uses the site as a resource with her own two young children.

"I would recommend it to anyone who has young children in their lives," she said.

Some of the videos show caregivers demonstrating the best practices for reading and literacy with youngsters.

Ms. Figlar said the site is a powerful tool for preschool teachers to use in creating lesson plans. It's also valuable for caregivers of children from birth to age 3 because it stresses reading and talking to children -- the core of literacy development.

"It's all at your fingertips so that you have more time to spend with the kids," she said.

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Laurie Bailey, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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