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Kids Can Get Taste for Science in Cyberspace

November 16, 2000|KAREN JONES | karen@kjnyc.com

Who says reality can't be as much fun for kids as cartoons and fantasy characters? DiscoveryKids and NASA Kids are two Web sites firmly grounded in real science and committed to bringing the wonder of this planet--and others--to the computer screen. Both are online extensions of larger organizations and offer plenty of healthy exploration and inspiration for children.

DiscoveryKids

Discovery.com is part of Discovery Communications, whose cable television operations include Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and Learning Channel. That alone should provide an idea of the vast amount of content available on the main Discovery site. DiscoveryKids, a linked Web site for children ages 7 to 13 at http://www.kids.discovery.com, describes itself as "an adventure-based site that inspires, informs and empowers children to be active in the real world through online content, tools and activities."

On the DiscoveryKids site, users see the standard list of clickable sections. There are two ways to access an extensive real-world adventures listing, which features more than 60 activities such as Build a Tree House, Find an International Pen Pal and Save a Wild Animal.

Kids can click on the List, which lets them pick and choose their adventures. Or they can use the My Adventures tab, which leads them to the Automatic Adventure Personality Profiler. Any initial alarm bells over a profiler should be silenced once the questions are reviewed. These include harmless queries such as "What do you want to be when you grow up?" and "Which animal best describes you?" All offer multiple-choice answers. Afterward, the profiler places participants in one of six categories or teams and then customizes adventure lists for them.

There are some basic interactive games on the site but nothing to write home about. The discovery cams, featuring live shots of animals in zoos, are uninspired. The subjects are rarely in the frame.

DiscoveryKids just acquired Yucky.com, a good-natured site devoted to all things icky and gross--particularly bugs. On Friday, DiscoveryKids plans to debut Countdown to Blast Off, supporting current international space station initiatives. It will feature a 360-degree tour of the station, a photo gallery, games and a look at a space camp for kids.

NASA Kids

Once the dinosaur phase is over, what child isn't fascinated by astronauts, rockets and planets? At NASA Kids, at http://kids.msfc.nasa.gov/, youngsters can get a close look at the people, technology and hardware propelling space exploration.

NASA Kids is one of many sister sites accessed through the main NASA Web site. Once there, kids can enjoy content designed especially for them, though the visuals are somewhat uneven. They can range from breath-taking shots of the Earth and sky to rudimentary drawings and animations. Still, this site is a must for all kids interested in outer space.

One of the main features of NASA Kids is its News for Kids section, in which science stories from Science@NASA are recast for middle schoolers and presented in a way that stimulates their imaginations. For example, a story on Expedition One, the first permanent crew on the international space station, also features a movie tour of the Zvezda habitation module and a visual pinpointing of the position of the station's orbit.

NASA Kids also offers several research sections. Space & Beyond provides links to information on everything from eclipses, black holes and galaxies to online space scientists. In Rockets & Airplanes, kids can learn about space probes, rockets and the space shuttle.

In Pioneers & Astronauts, they can learn about careers in the space program, Earth science and aeronautics. The site also features a Puzzles & Games section, where postcards can be e-mailed to friends, black-and-white line drawings for coloring projects can be printed out and a template to build a paper model of the space shuttle can be found.

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Karen Jones is a freelance writer specializing in children's interactive media.

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