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NASA Kids' Club
Pros: Games are well-designed and fun, and the varied levels make the site versatile.
Cons: Not all of the games are educational, and there could be more content.
Bottom Line: A fun, kid-friendly place to get introduced to the wonders of space.
NASA Kids' Club activities and content can be great supplements to a segment on space exploration, astronomy, and even environmental science. The games can be used as a reward or treat after students complete a quiz or have a successful discussion -- some are heavy on learning, while others are focused on fun.
NASA Kids' Club has games and activities from the space agency. The site doesn't require students to register or enter an email address to post comments, which are moderated. However, some parts include links to social media, which are less controlled. A section of the site also offers Internet safety tips for parents and teachers.
Students can find what they want to do quickly and easily right from the main page. It doesn't take long to catch on to the leveled games (1 = easiest, 5 = hardest), which are usually focused on a single space idea. Other activities like Elmo Visits NASA, Mars Fun Zone, and Buzz Lightyear Return from Space are more elaborate, and kids can take their time. Kids can also check in on current space missions, play more games in a clubhouse, join an asteroid-naming contest, or view NASA photographs.
Kids learn science and math as they play space-related games. For example, in Rocket Builder (a Level 1 game), kids compare and sort 2-D and 3-D shapes as they build a rocket. Starfall (Level 3) teaches the relationship between star color and temperature; grabbing hotter stars earns higher points. Buzz Lightyear Return from Space is more involved -- kids complete missions that cover math conversions and gravity. A teacher area explains the education standards associated with each activity.
Students can learn science, math, and language arts while exploring some basic space topics. Games are aimed toward the K-4 set and are rooted in national and Common Core State Standards. They are organized into levels from easiest to hardest. Games focus on one concept at a time -- for example, converting time, patterns, building a rocket, or the solar system. Students with an interest in space will find the activities easy to access and fun to play.
Nifty space-age noises sound when you click on buttons in NASA Kids' Club -- but that's just one of the clever touches NASA has included on its space-centric site. Don't expect dozens of things to do; there probably isn't enough to keep kids captivated for hours. However, the games, videos, and other activities are well-designed, easy to understand, and -- best of all -- fun. Interactive sections let you compare your weight and age on various planets; some familiar faces also pop up in a Buzz Lightyear game and a video recapping Elmo's trip to NASA.
NASA really has done a great job of incorporating educational activities on its site. Some use visual elements to help kids work out math problems, and to customize the experience, others let kids select an age group (such as kindergarten to second grade). Another bonus: Because NASA offers a text-only version of the site, even families using an old computer will be able to join in on the fun.