Kids spend a lot of time on computers and cell phones, but it’s possible to make that screen-time more worthwhile over the summer.
Here's a list of online activities kids can do using free web tools to explore the world, travel through time, and use their imaginations - without having to convince parents to spend a lot of money or make elaborate travel plans....
Walk in Neil Armstrong’s footsteps... or rove around Mars’ surface.
With Google you can explore the moon’s service -- walk around and see what the astronauts saw on their 1969 moon landing, with a narrated tour by Buzz Aldrin. Try it at earth.google.com/moon/. For more space exploration, check out Google Mars, which lets you zip around the Red Planet’s surface, immersed in hi-res imagery from the Mars Rovers. Your child can scout it out before planning their 2040 trip.
Explore the world in images.
Google Image Swirl lets you search for something you’re interested in, like “dinosaurs.” You’ll see images of stegosauri, ankylosaurs, or pteronodons, with similar images branching off the original one -- as you click each one, new images swirl into place. It’s a quick, visual way for your kids to explore what most fascinates them, whether it’s Da Vinci drawings, tree frogs, or sailing ships.
Fly around the world... and dive under the ocean.
Google Earth lets you navigate the world in 3D -- you can zoom in from space to the streets of cities like Hong Kong, San Francisco or Johannesberg, watch the changing rainforests over time, and dive underwater to explore the Marianas Trench, tropical reefs, or shipwrecks. Enjoy endless hours of exploration for free.
Read the original texts.
If you’re learning about evolution, Google Books lets you leaf through the original copy of Darwin’s 1859 Origin of Species online. Curious about the 1969 moon landings? The astronauts wrote up their experience themselves in LIFE Magazine (which also ran a special lunar landing issue). Does your teen want to get immersed in the culture around the Wattstax concert? They can read JET Magazine’s original story from 1972.
Point out the constellations, planets, and galaxies.
Not sure where the North Star is? Point an Android phone with Google Sky Map toward the night sky, and it’ll use the phone’s motion sensors to line up your mobile map with what you’re seeing in the sky (in realtime), so you can easily pick out Venus, the Andromeda galaxy, Orion, and any other major markers in the night sky.
Help them build their dream skyscraper.
Google Sketchup lets budding architects design sophisticated 3D structures -- be it a concert hall, star ship, or floating garden -- without any real technical knowledge. Your pre-teen is almost guaranteed to build something more impressive than you can.
Learn about the world as you walk through it.
Who built that monument? No need to hire a tour guide; point your Android phone’s camera at it, and Google Goggles brings up the relevant details. See who created it, when, and why. It works especially well for famous landmarks, artwork, and books.
Quiz them on conversions and quantities.
How many kilometers in 10 miles? How many seconds are in an hour? What time is it in Tokyo? Try to guess the right answer; then speak the question into Google Search on an iPhone or Android phone, and the solution gets displayed. You can also type in the question into the Google Search toolbar from your desktop and the answer will appear.
Visualize big trends.
This is a bit more advanced... but if your older teen is interested in major world issues like how Africa’s life expectancy has changed with the advent of AIDS, or how CO2 emissions have changed around the globe, they can visualize it in vivid moving graphs they can create themselves with Google Public Data Explorer. They’re beautiful enough to embed in a class project , on a website or blog, or even to print out and display.
Share your kids’ imaginings...on Google’s homepage.
Check out Doodle for Google to see the latest contests.