This year marked the 25th anniversary of the Challenger space shuttle disaster. Like many people, I can remember where I was and who delivered the news (at school, walking down the hill, and the news was delivered by one of my jokester friends, so I didn't believe him). I've tried to explain the impact to the children, probably with little success.
When I discovered that the Challenger Learning Center nearby was hosting a family day, Skeeter and I immediately made plans to go. Spyder had taken the Voyage to Mars class last year, so he was familiar with the center. Sass and I were in the observation room during the class, alternating between watching the mission and playing games together, so we were somewhat familiar with it. Skeeter had never been and was pleased to have an opportunity to see it.
The coordinators ("commanders") had set up learning stations, using simple hands-on experiments to show the challenges faced by the astronauts in space. One of them was as simple as putting on a pair of work gloves and screwing a nut onto a bolt, but feeling the challenge is a effective learning tool than being told or even seeing it.
The experiment that the children found the most fascinating showed the effect of the space vacuum, very similar to this one:
Spyder was incredibly proud of his massive marshmallow astronaut. :)
We also saw two planetarium shows and a short laser show. The children had never seen a laser show before, so that was the one which most interested them. They were already making plans to see another one as soon as the lights came up.
There are many of these Challenger Learning Centers all over the US. If there is one near you, I highly recommend seeing what it has to offer.