Summer is a fine time for fun By Jennifer ManganSummer is awesome. It's freedom rom school schedules, packing lunches, homework and after-school activities. It also means kids 24/7 who want and need something to do. Summer is an ideal time to explore the world together, learn new activities and develop new interests. The following is a small sampling of videos that may spark your child's interest. ALL BY MYSELF: GETTING DRESSED, 2003, $14.95 VHS; ages 2 and up. With freedom from schedules, summer might be a perfect time to teach your child how to get dressed. A wonderful supplement to a parent's personal instruction is the video "All By Myself: Getting Dressed." Buddy the Ladybug hosts the 30-minute video where kids, ages 2-5, are taped as they maneuver pants, shirt, socks and shoes. It's great for kids to watch because it's repetitive and eventually they will start to imitate the kids on the video. Parents, on the other hand, will want to watch this only once. Kids learn the difference between front and back by using the garment tag. Buddy encourages the kids by saying things like "good tag check" and "amazing job." "Bloopers" is my favorite part of the tape. It's the unedited version where you see what really happens, such as the toddler who refuses to put on his pants and runs around in circles wearing only his undies. ZOE'S DANCE MOVES, $9.98 VHS; $14.98 DVD; all ages. I've never met a preschooler who didn't like to dance. In "Zoe's Dance Moves," Sesame Street's favorite ballerina and friend Elmo discover what a real dance lesson is like with celebrity Paula Abdul. While fostering creativity, cognitive and physical growth, kids experience dance from around the world through African, Asian, hip-hop and ballet styles. Miss Paula guides the kids step-by-step to create an entire dance routine incorporating all the different styles. The younger ones may get frustrated, but that's the beauty of video, you can repeat it as much as you want. Miss Paula learns a new routine herself when Zoe teaches her the Silly-Willy-Nilly Dance where anything goes. This is a wonderful opportunity to discover which dance style your child enjoys most. BEETHOVEN LIVES UPSTAIRS, 1992, $14.98 VHS; $19.99 DVD; ages 7 and up. While we're on the subject of music, "Beethoven Lives Upstairs" is part of the Classical Kids collection featuring stories about great composers such as Tchaikovsky, Bach and Mozart. "Beethoven Lives Upstairs" is a live action adaptation depicting the era in which an already-deaf Beethoven is attempting to write a symphony. Ten-year-old Christoph, who has recently lost his father, does not welcome Beethoven's arrival as a boarder. He is distraught that a strange man is living in their home. Christoph finds Beethoven's yelling and pounding on his piano late at night insane and frightening until he understands that the composer is deaf. Christoph learns Beethovan is so profoundly frustrated because he can hear only the music in his head. They become friends and Beethoven has a deep impact on the boy's life. Although Beethoven's temper is inappropriate and cruel at times in the film, Christoph displays great compassion and understanding toward this musical hero. On the just released DVD, the bonus DVD-ROM games and activities inspire music education, such as how to read a score, how to play Beethoven's piano and learning about tone, rhythm, pitch, expression and composition. It also includes a selection of greatest hits. DRAGON TALES: LET'S START A BAND, 2003, $12.95 VHS; $14.95 DVD; all ages. Having never seen Dragon Tales, I am now a fan. This is one of the most positive video experiences out there. I am amazed at the amount of energy packed into this 40-minute video. From the zippy lyrics to the rainbows and brightly colored graphics, everything about Dragon Tales exudes happiness, fun, celebration, surprise and get-up-and-go. The combination of animation and live-action blends beautifully in this highly spirited musical theme. The idea of music bringing people together is introduced when Nina (the babysitter) and the neighborhood kids are looking for something to do. Nina suggests they start a band, but the kids don't know where to begin. Together with dragons Cassie, Ord, Emmy, Max, Quetzal, Zak and Wheezie, they discover that making music is as simple as stomping your feet, clapping your hands and using your voice. Guitarist Dan Zanes and vocalist Erykah Badu display their special talents to the kids. There are 15 sing-a-long and dance-a-long songs, so you can expect to have a lot of singin' and shakin' goin' on. THAT'S HOW WE BUILD A HOUSE, 2003, $14.99 VHS; $17.95 DVD, ages 3-10. Local producer and father Bruce Frankel thought a video about how to build a house would be interesting for kids to watch. I think he's right. In fact, "That's How We Build a House" rivals any other "how to" video I've seen. One of the first pictures a child draws is a house and in the video Frankel literally brings those pictures to life. It's narrated and hosted by two construction workers, Gwen and Danny, who explain and define the building process using terms such as lot, surveyor, architect, blue prints and excavating with clarity and humor. The video is edited with vintage video clips that keep the 28 minutes light-hearted and fun. But Gwen and Danny do warn kids that construction sites can be a dangerous place and not to enter without permission. Better have those tool belts handy. Jennifer Mangan is a freelance writer who lives in the western suburbs with her husband and four children, ages 17, 16, 13 and 11.