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The Question

(Submitted April 01, 1997)

My son is 9 years old and very much interested in stars, planets etc. I have visited your excellent site made for children. Could you please advise me on where I can get some videos about learning Astronomy for young children?

The Answer

In response to your question, I asked a number of colleagues for their video suggestions, talked to staff at the Public Affairs Office and the Teacher Resource Center at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and searched the Internet. The results have been quite disappointing. There seem to be few good widely-available astronomy videos for children.

Sky Publishing (the publishers of the excellent popular magazine "Sky and Telescope") have a section of their on-line catalog devoted to "Start Right in Astronomy". I think it says a lot that the only video in the section is Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" series - which is still very good, but was made many years ago. Go to:

http://skyandtelescope.com/resources/resources.shtml

The Astronomical Society of the Pacific also has a catalog you might want to look at. (A colleague recommends against their video 'Astronomy 101' however, because it contains some basic errors). Their catalog is available via their website:

http://www.astrosociety.org

Another colleague recommends the Bell Science Series, available from:

Rhino Home Video
2225 Colorado Avenue
Santa Monica, CA 90404

Most videos produced by the BBC or derived from the Nova TV series (often the same thing) are of very high quality and might be interesting to many older children.

The situation for videos produced by NASA seems particularly embarrassing. Many excellent videos have been made, but I've just made a number of calls that suggest that record-keeping has been poor and nobody feels that it is their responsibility to make them readily accessible. If you are near a NASA Center, you might want to visit the Teacher Resource Center located there. TRC staff are often happy to help interested parents. If not, try calling the Public Affairs Office at the nearest Center.

My guess is that the reason there isn't a lot more good material more widely available is that two groups necessary to make high quality science videos - filmmakers and scientists - each thinks the other would be too much trouble to work with!

The situation for non-video introductory material is much better. If you go to the Learning Center site associated with Starchild, you will find many links to other sites on the Internet which may be helpful. (Be aware however that because it's so easy to build a web site a lot of terrible material exists elsewhere). The Learning Center URL is:

http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov

By far the best resources however are your local bookstore and library. The average quality of introductory material in print is high and if you look around enough you are sure to find many good books.

I hope this response has been of some help.

Best wishes,

Paul Butterworth
for the "Ask an Astrophysicist" team

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