Howard County Web site gets kid-friendly addition

Youngsters can log on to learn about government

June 14, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Kids and computers go together like summer and swimming, but try engaging children with their local government.

Howard County is trying just that, using colorful symbols on its Web site to attract elementary school-age youngsters to the more mundane aspects of life - such as how come the place they live is called Howard County? Who makes the laws and how? And what animals live there?

Howard is the only Central Maryland county to experiment with a portal for children on its main government Web site, although most have summer reading links for youngsters on their library systems' sites. Maryland's government site has had a link to mostly education-related information since January 2001.

Grown-ups in suits can be boring, but the county's leaders are dressed in cartoon clothes to look like cowboys, musicians, sports stars and motorcyclists on the "Kids County" section of the site. Children can see the link at the top of the main county page, marked by a big smiling sun wearing sunglasses, attached to a bright green logo.

Goodman developed what began as a casual idea from Stephanie Hastings and Renee Sanudo - teachers at Lisbon Elementary School who were searching for information about county government that their pupils could use. Hastings is Goodman's daughter-in-law and Sanudo's mother is the county's chief administrative officer, Raquel Sanudo.

Goodman said she hopes to reach out to school principals and teachers throughout the county before school starts in August.

Adorned with bright colors, odd shapes and catchy labels, the Web site provides computer games, pages to color, word and time-travel games, plus other creatively packaged information about the county and how the stuff children may take for granted really works.

Top county officials are listed by their first names, their faces placed in cartoon-like outfits, with short explanations about what each one does.

Producer Susan Ellerbee recruited county children and taped KidsZone TV, an eight-minute government cable television show in which youngsters talk about deer, snakes, rabbits and ducks in Centennial Park - and the Web site.

The next segment goes into production soon, and will focus on how an idea becomes a law.

Howard's Web site is at KidsZone TV is shown daily at 12:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. on Howard County Comcast channel 70.

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