What would it be like to go on a trip to Mars? Outer space is captivating for kids and adults alike! Play that revolves around a real-world theme, like outer space is a super way to nurture kids’ imaginations while getting them hooked on science. As featured in our January Activity Calendar, in this activity kids turn a cardboard box into a rocket ship and blast off on an imaginary Mars expedition!
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Learn and wonder:
NASA’s website has numerous resources to help kids learn about Mars. The Mars Perseverance Rover Interactive site has photos and video taken on Mars as well as a 3D view of the rover and rocket from the 2020 mission. You can also look at these photos from National Geographic Kids of the vehicles from the NASA Perseverance mission. Experiencing the night sky first-hand is the best way to inspire wonder and curiosity. If kids can stay up a bit later, head outside to behold the moon, planets and stars. Wonder together, What do we see? Where is all that light coming from? What do you think is out there? Take kids' ideas and offer some simple ways to think about it. Apps like SkyView, Star Tracker and Star Walk enable you to see and identify the constellations in your night sky just by pointing your phone in different directions. These apps work just as well in daylight as in the night, making them a great way to explore the stars without interfering with bedtime.
Get inspiration from literature:
Watch the read-aloud of My Rainy Day Rocketship by Markette Sheppard. Then, say, “Would you like to pretend to go on a trip to Mars?” Wonder together how you would get there. What would you need to pack? What do you think you would see and do when you arrived?
Build a rocket ship:
Offer a cardboard box or two, some recycled containers and tape and wonder aloud how your child could use these materials to make a vehicle that would transport them to Mars. Offer your assistance in suggesting and gathering materials your child needs for their rocket ship, rover or jet pack. Kids can gather nature treasures, markers or paint and small recycled objects like buttons or bottle tops to add buttons, dials and other details.
Prepare for a Mars landing:
Take your space vehicle outside and wonder how you could create a landing spot that looks like Mars. The surface of Mars is rocky with many volcanoes. Can kids gather rocks for their landing spot? Shape dirt or mud into volcanos?
When kids are ready to take their rocket ship for a spin, make a moment of counting down “3...2...1...blast off!” Then, step back and let the pretend play roll! To help extend play, you can offer tools your child can use to investigate the surface of Mars when they have landed. Magnifying glasses and paintbrushes can be used to excavate and examine the Mars soil and look for signs of life. A bag or bucket can be used to collect interesting specimens. To extend play even more, let your child know that scientists have been searching for signs of life on Mars. If there was life on Mars, what does your child think it would look like? Invite your child to use mud or forest putty and nature treasures to create their imagined life on Mars. Want more ideas like this?
Incorporating outer space themes into imaginary play is a great way to get kids curious about the universe, hooked on science, and inspired to imagine. And, turning a box into a rocket ship or rover supports kids divergent thinking, a key component of creativity. Play that revolves around a captivating, real-world theme, like outer space inspires the kind of child-led play that keeps kids engaged and re-inventing.
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By creativity, we mean the ability to both imagine original ideas or solutions to problems and actually do what needs to be done to make them happen. So, to help kids develop creativity, we parents need to nurture kids' imaginations and give them lots of chances to design, test, redesign and implement their ideas.
"Creativity is as important now in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”
Why, you ask? For one, it is through being creative that a person is able to get senses, sensibility and spirit working together. Simply put, without creativity, we don't think our kids will live a full life.
On a more practical level, it's also the means by which humans of all ages make an impact on the world and other people around them. A lot of heavy stuff is going to go down in our kids' lifetime, and their generation will need to imagine and implement solutions to big and very complicated problems. Although our kids are still far from public office or the boardroom, today's political and business leaders worldwide are already pointing to creativity as the most important leadership quality for the future.
Although years from the art studio or design lab, little kids can learn to think and act creatively if you give them time and the right practice.
What is Imagination?
Imagination is defined in many ways, but one we like is, "the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality." This is no small task to little kids, and yet young childhood is a time in which imagination is developed more than any other. How does imagination develop in childhood? Through an increasingly sophisticated life of make believe.
We all likely have a sense of what we mean by make believe or good old "pretend play." How do experts define it, though? To some, there are different types of make believe that vary in sophistication and make pretend play different than other types of play. For example, kids may use objects to represent something else (e.g. a block becomes a cell phone). Or, they may start to give an object certain properties (e.g. a doll is asleep or a tree is on fire!). Still yet, they may themselves take on the properties of someone or something else.
From there, pretend play evolves into acting out scenarios or stories, those getting increasingly intricate as imagination develops. As kids' pretend play grows more sophisticated, these stories come to involve not only the creative use of objects, but multiple perspectives (e.g. good and bad guys in the same story), and/or the playful manipulation of ideas and emotions (e.g. I am sad, but then become happy after I save the village from certain doom).
Why does it matter?
An ever growing body of research substantiates the many benefits of pretend play including the enhanced development of: language and communication skills; self-control and empathy; flexible and abstract thinking; and creativity. These are the skills that will help kids balance emotions, form healthy relationships, work effectively on teams, stay focused in school, be successful at various jobs and solve the problems of an increasingly complicated world. An individual's creativity in particular, both requires and is limited by her imagination.