The NASA site is enormous, I mean really, really big. It has so many things you could do with kids that to review all of them would produce its own enormous site so I’ll do them bit by bit, starting with the NASA Kids’ Club. The first thing is to check the top right of the page, there is a little link that says ‘Text Only Site.’ This is the place to go if you have dialup or a slow connection, because the Flash version is, well, flash. It is too slow and frustrating for most kids if it’s taking a long time to load.
I’m pretty impressed they’ve put a text version in, it’s a courtesy I haven’t seen before. It’s more exercises than games, great for teachers or homeschoolers. They have the same names as the Flash games but tend to be maths or English based, not much science or space. There are still some pictures available, but there is a list of captions and then you click to link to the picture you want, rather than waiting for them all to load.
The Flash version has all sorts of games divided into two sections. Up the top is a section where you can choose a level to get different games. This is not designed for littlies, most of level 1 my 3 year old can do but she can’t navigate around or read the information. Some of it could be used with supervision, but a lot of it needs a level of precision they have to practice to get and the instructions are not intuitive (translation – even I had trouble working out what you were meant to do for some of them). For school kids they could be good to make them think rather than just point and shoot.
Most of the games at the bottom are your garden variety matching, shoot at things or jigsaws, but there is information about the space programme included. So for example when you match two cards they give you a factoid before disappearing. So from that point of view they are designed for older kids, especially ones who are already interested in space, but my 3 year old is quite capable of ignoring all the writing and just playing.
Throughout there is a great attempt to make the space programme real – snippets about people actually on the space station, pictures of haircuts in space, lots of photos of the vehicles and robots. Putting my teacher hat on for a moment I have to say it is mainly thematic, rather than conceptual. This means there is a lot of things that could be done any way and just happen to use rockets, for example counting Mars Rovers rather than basketballs. There is a little bit that tries to get kids to think about the reality of space exploration – such as what would we pack on a rocket? – but I would say it is a site that uses space rather than being about space. If your kids are interested in space that is a tremendous hook, and this site could give them some information to intrigue them, plus there are some really cool photos. It would also be a good starting point for research projects.
For older kids who already know a little bit about space this site has a wide variety of activities they can try.
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