As the sun set on another record setting day of heat in Washington, DC, I found myself searching for a spot of grass big enough for my family in the shadow of the Washington Monument. Earlier in the day I wasn’t sure that we’d venture down to the National Mall for the Apollo 50: Go for the Moon Projection Show but I was glad we did.
The darkness provided little relief from the day’s heat but once the show started and I watched the Apollo 11 mission from launch to landing and beyond, I was mesmerized. For 20 minutes the hush of the crowd made me forgot where I was and that I was invading someone else’s personal space. Even though we all knew Apollo 11 was successful, going back in time to relive history that happened before I was born in such a spectacular way was incredible.
As I picked myself up from my grassy spot, gathered my things, and looked around, I was awestruck by the number of families with little kids who ventured out to the National Mall for a projection show that lasted well beyond their bedtime on a hot summer night. While the show reignited my love and curiosity of space and space science, I could only imagine what tiny seeds might have been planted in so many young minds who will carry out the future of our country’s space program.
If your child was interested in the 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 Moon mission, let’s keep the learning about space science going! According to an extensive survey conducted by the LEGO Group regarding kids’ knowledge of space and interest in what lies beyond Earth, 86% of kids are interested in space and 90% want to learn more. In a multiple-choice question, LEGO found that most kids (85%) can identify Neil Armstrong as the first person to walk on the moon (88% in the US, 87% in UK, 79% in China). Today’s kids also could not be fooled, with only 2% believing it was Buzz Lightyear!
The youngster in your home who is asking questions today could be designing and executing the missions of tomorrow. Here are some fun age appropriate ways to keep your kids learning about space science.
Fostering Your Child’s Love of Space Science
Toddlers & Preschoolers
One of the best ways toddlers and preschoolers learn is through play. This 6 piece Apollo and Shuttle adventure set features a Saturn V, Shuttle Orbiter, and an astronaut from both Apollo and the Shuttle for pretend space play.
Space World Dome Tent($36.99)
The space adventures can be endless when you have your own space dome tent in your living room! This 4” square space tent features fun designs on the nylon exterior. Young space explorers enter and exit the capsule door through a tunnel port with a roll down flap and when inside, a hook at the top can be used to hang a small lantern in case extra light is needed during missions in deep space.
Ready Jet Go! Space Scouts App (free)
The READY JET GO! Space Scouts app from PBS Kids allows kids to become the ultimate Space Scout by designing, building, and engineering with five STEM focused games. Traveling tots will love designing and engineering rovers on the Moon, building a mission controller and piloting their own spaceship through the solar system. READY JET GO! Space Scouts encourages critical thinking and curiosity, allowing kids to uncover the wonders of space. This app is a great free introduction to space science for young ages! Available on iOS, Google Play, and Amazon
Jet’s Bot Builder App (free)
Jet’s Bot Builder challenges kids aged 4 to 8 to use engineering skills to design and create their very own robot to travel through the solar system while learning crucial problem-solving skills along the way. Through these interactive travels as they explore planets and stars, players must overcome obstacles by using the engineering design process to plan, create, test and improve new parts for their own robot creation. They’ll craft new parts to improve their robots while thinking outside-the-box, and developing flexible thinking and problem-solving skills. Available on iOS, Google Play, and Amazon
Early Elementary Ages
Parents looking to provide a concrete model of the solar system will enjoy working with their kids to put together this 3D puzzle that also fosters development of hand-eye coordination, imagination, problem-solving skills, and patience.
Kids who love facts will enjoy this set of cards featuring gorgeous visuals covering all planets in the solar system, some minor planets, famous natural satellites, galaxies, clusters, and nebulae. The 52 card deck are printed in full color and feature an image on one side and its name (with abbreviation or astronomical symbol), structure, and brief descriptions on the other.
BitsBox ($29.95/month but new customers can take advantage of BitsBox being featured on Amazon’s Today’s Deals (9/6) to get their first month for $14.95!)
Planetarium Projector ($21.98)
For any child who wants to fall asleep gazing at the stars, Discovery Kids’ Planetarium Projector is a perfect addition to any bedroom. This double-sided projector allows kids to view stars, galaxies, planets, and spaceships from either stationary or moving mode. The moving side features two layered translucent domes that rotate slowly, projecting moving stars onto any surface for a truly immersive celestial experience! 4 discs of 8 slides each for a total of 32 slides can be used with the stationary projector and projected on the wall. Kids can manually rotate the wheel to view the next slide.
You Are the First Kid on Mars ($17.99) by Patrick O’Brien
What would it be like if you were the first kid on Mars? This book explores what kids might encounter on the Red Planet through gorgeous illustrations that depict a young boy as the space traveler.
Buzz Aldrin who was aboard the Apollo 11 mission, envisions the moon as a launch pad for human missions to Mars and this LEGO City building kit inspires young builders and space enthusiasts to imagine what if. The set contains a Mars Research Shuttle, Helidrone, Storage Drone, Mars scenery, and a Mars rover with articulated grappling arm designed to retrieve geodes.
Water Rocket Kit ($21.39)
Young scientists interested in rocketry and space flight will love this hands-on kit that uses the power of water pressure to blast a rocket up to 90 feet in the air. Kids recycle a soda bottle and transform it into a functioning rocket with the help of a bicycle pump (not included). The 4M Water Rocket Kit contains 1 plastic bottle, 4 fins (One for spare), 1 fin support, 1 bung, 1 bung connector, 1 pump connector, 1 extension plastic pipe, and instructions.
Star Wars Droid Inventor Kit from Little Bits ($99 or $73.79 on Amazon)
This is the droid you’re looking for to help your budding engineer learn to build and code! Little Bits has been a long-time favorite of mine because the components are easy to put together, encourage creativity, and are highly customizable and can be added to with the addition of more bits. But no additional Bits are needed to make your first droid right from the box! Kids can learn to control electronics with code in block based coding missions. The companion app provides video instructions, missions, controls, and is a helpful tool in the assembly as tweens create a droid they can guide with a wave of their hand like they’re using The Force, navigate itself around objects, record a message and send it off to be delivered a la Princess Leia, and more!
Solar Mechanics Kit ($29.99)
The 88 Astronomical Constellations ($26.99)
This beautiful deck of 88 cards contains all astronomical constellations and is perfect for anyone who wants to know everything about what they’re seeing in the night sky. One side displays a constellation diagram with the star magnitude, the other side displays its name, abbreviation, diagram with star designations, star names and the constellation family it belongs to. Apparently, this is the only deck of card that covers all 88 modern constellations recognized by the International Astronomical Union!
The Complete Moon Base Alpha Trilogy ($19.42)
Stuart Gibbs, the author of Spy School, has written another fabulous trilogy. This time the books are set on a space station on the moon. 12 year old Dash Gibson and his family are among the first humans to live on the moon and are days away from returning to planet Earth when one of the base’s top scientists turns up dead. Tween readers with a sense of adventure and desire to live elsewhere in our solar system will love this trilogy that follows Dash as he solves the murder, finds missing people, and searches for a rogue prisoner.
Welcome to Mars: Making a Home on the Red Planet ($13.39) by Buzz Aldrin
What would your home be like if you lived on Mars? Astronaut Buzz Aldrin challenges kids to think about Mars as a potential new home for earthlings in this book that inspires the next generation of astronauts.