Thursday, January 29, 2009

Kids - Show Don't Tell

Elizabeth of St. Peters, MO says: My 5-year-old and I watched the ISS tour. Lately she's been saying she wants to go up in space and be an astronaut. We searched YouTube for other videos. It's hard to explain, but she enjoys it. Any ideas on ways to explain space to her?

Glad you had fun, and thanks for the feedback! If you're already taking your 5-year-old to space museums and she says she wants to be an astronaut, you don’t need my advice, LOL... the new space race is in good hands. Pretty soon, she'll be begging you to send her to Space Camp!

I'll offer a suggestion though: take her to a planetarium to view star fields and “animated” celestial events projected onto a dome. The International Planetarium Society publishes an annual list, showing nearly 1500 planetariums all over the world. Your closest is Zeiss Planetarium in St. Louis. Lucky you!

Austin is collecting funds to build one, based on studies that show planetariums improve understanding of astronomy and space concepts. I believe it, since my earliest memory of being truly awed by stars and planets was on a school field trip to Morrison Planetarium in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Seems odd in retrospect, since that was after my first trip to Kennedy Space Center! However, while I’m sure the rockets impressed me, I was too young to comprehend all the artifacts I saw there.

IMAX films – heck, even Star Wars movies – were still years away, so planetariums were the only places where the universe was spacious, multi-colored, spinning, alive, explosive! It doesn’t hurt that the shows are accompanied by loud, stirring symphonies – so it was definitely a powerful experience where I felt “fascinated.”

I later joined the California Academy of Sciences – where discounted planetarium tickets were perks when you paid dues. I attended laser shows, films of eclipses, meteor showers, planet documentaries, and most memorably, giant projections of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 Comet impacting Jupiter.

In this respect, I'm sure everyone could tell their own story. There are probably as many ways to become interested in space as there are people interested in space! Some swear by telescopes, others had an influential science teacher, or were deeply affected by watching Apollo coverage. (My mother was pregnant with me at the time, so I just missed it!) Maybe some saw Shuttle launches as kids, though I didn’t see one until I was nearly 30. Whatever powerful image you saw first was likely the one that stayed with you.