The Astronaut in Me
In the four-part Astronaut In Me exploration, children ages 8 to 13 investigate the importance of good nutrition, sleep, exercise, and recreation for astronauts — and themselves! They discover the healthy choice challenges they have in common. The Astronaut In Me requires about 120 minutes, but can be divided into two sessions.
What's the Point?
- Along with all other humans, astronauts and kids share the basic needs of sufficient sleep, well-balanced meals, exercise, cleanliness, recreation, and relaxation.
- Another more surprising thing shared by astronauts and kids is that they both find it difficult at times to maintain good daily habits!
- In order to maintain healthy bones and muscles, have plenty of energy, and sustain a positive outlook on life, it is essential that astronauts and kids eat well balanced meals, stay clean, and get plenty of sleep, and exercise, and have fun!
The following materials are needed for the group for Parts 1 and 2 (Space Venues and Excuses, Excuses.)
- A dry erase or chalkboard (alternative materials for constructing a Venn Diagram include yarn and pins or tape, poster board, or poster paper)
- Dry erase markers or chalk in 3 colors
- 30 large index cards (15 each of 2 different colors). Colored paper may be substituted
- Colored markers
The following materials are needed for each group of 3–4 children for Part 3 (Healthy Choices)
- Poster paper or board
- Colored markers or crayons
- Tape for hanging
- Other craft items for the posters (optional)
The following materials are needed for each child for Part 4 (Tracing the Connections)
- Butcher paper about 1' longer than each child is tall
- Colored markers or crayons
- Other craft items for the posters (optional)
- Tape for hanging
For the facilitator:
- Arrange the room so that the children can be divided into two groups and can also come together for a single group discussion.
- The board should be where the whole group can see it.
- Draw a large (at least 3' × 3') Venn Diagram on the board, using different colors for each of the 3 areas in the diagram. Label one large circle Astronauts, one Kids, and label the area in the middle Astronauts and Kids.
Part 1. Space Venues
1. Introduce the activity by asking
- Did you know that you have a lot in common with astronauts? Most of the children will probably say, "No!"
- What do you think we are going to do with the diagram on the board? This is a Venn Diagram, with two or more circles that overlap in the center. Our circles are labeled "Astronauts" and "Kids". We'll discuss characteristics or qualities of each of these groups. The middle section, where the circles overlap, will contain the characteristics kids and astronauts have in common.
2. Explain the activity. You will divide them into two groups; one group will be Astronauts and one group will be Kids. The mission of each group will be to develop a list of everything that would be absolutely essential for them, as either astronauts or kids, to maintain a healthy, happy life. They must agree upon each item as a group and be able to explain why it is absolutely essential. Each team will receive only 10 index cards (one per item), so they must choose carefully only those things necessary for a healthy life. They need not use all 10 cards.
3. Get them started! Offer a timeframe for their brainstorming (15 minutes), divide them into groups, provide the materials, and encourage them to begin discussion. Circulate to facilitate discussion.
- Can anyone from the Astronaut group tell me just one thing an astronaut would need to stay healthy? How about the Kid group? Answers will vary, but may include things like food, air, water, etc. You may need to prompt ideas.
- Think of the things you do every single day, starting with the minute you wake up to the very last thing you do at night. Which of those things, if you didn't do or have them on a regular basis, would sooner or later make you either physically sick or just plain miserable? Answers will vary, but probably will include things like breathing, eating, sleeping, bathing, brushing your teeth, exercising and playing. You may want to mention to the children that "exercise" and "play" are not necessarily the same things. There can be overlap, but activities like video games could be considered play; doing jumping jacks for 30 minutes would be exercise.
Encourage the children to be creative, but focused, by challenging them to justify each item they include. Encourage them to share their reasons with one another. You may need to encourage the Astronaut group to resist the temptation to over think what is needed for good health in space. As far as we know, force fields and laser shields are not necessary yet! Remind them to just think basic human needs.
4. Invite a representative from each group to tape the index cards in the appropriate circle — "Kids" or " Astronauts" — on the Venn Diagram.
5. Encourage each group, in turn, to share one thing that the group identified. Ask the second group if the need was identified by their group as well. If both groups identified a trait, or they agreed it is a shared need, move the cards to the area of overlap between the circles.
Refer to your Facilitator's Guide Sheet for more detailed information. Guide each group to add any items they may have missed. Ask them to elaborate on the individual items.
Have children from each group write items missed on additional index cards and place them in the appropriate circles on the board.
- Is a certain amount of sleep necessary for good health in kids? What about for astronauts? Yes! Children, particularly teenagers, need at least 8 hours of sleep each night. Astronauts also need to get enough sleep because, without sleep, it is difficult to think clearly.
- Is it really that important for astronauts to stay clean? What about kids? Cleanliness is an important factor for maintaining a healthy life! Bacteria can thrive in space as well as on Earth, particularly on unclean surfaces, and that includes your body! Colds can spread in space, just like they can on Earth; it is necessary for astronauts to stay clean to stay healthy. Being clean also makes you feel good!
- Having fun is, well, fun! But is it necessary for kids? What about astronauts? Absolutely! No matter what your age or location, fun — and relaxation — is important for good mental health. All people need time out — to rest, relax, and have fun. Astronauts and kids share a lot of fun things in common, like playing Frisbee, cards, guitar, juggling, tossing food and catching it in their mouths (or trying!), watching movies, listening to music, reading books, and sending e-mails to family and friends!
- How essential is a well-balanced diet in keeping astronauts healthy? What about kids? Meals should follow a schedule and be nutritious and well balanced. They should be rich in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, and should be balanced for calories/energy. Calcium, in particular, is an important mineral for both kids and astronauts to build and maintain bone mass. Another vital ingredient for health is drinking plenty of water. Without a healthy diet, we would not have the energy to work and play and we would be more susceptible to diseases.
- What types of foods do you need to develop and maintain healthy bones? Food rich in calcium. Lots of milk and cheese and yogurt, and lots and lots of broccoli and brussel sprouts (yum!!!)
- Do astronauts need as much calcium as kids? Why or why not? While in microgravity conditions the body does not need the same skeleton as is needed to function in Earth's gravity. So it starts breaking down bone to develop a "space normal" skeleton. The astronauts' bones begin to deteriorate and can become brittle. One of the remedies for this very serious condition is to make sure astronauts get good diets — with calcium, vitamin D, protein, and other important bone nutrients in their meals. Exercise also helps to maintain healthy bones.
- Is exercise necessary? Yes! Exercise keeps bones and muscles strong and keeps our heart — and brain! — healthy. Exercise helps keep astronauts' bones and muscles from weakening while they are in the reduced gravity conditions of space.
- (If the children have completed the UV Man activities) Is it necessary for astronauts to protect themselves from ultraviolet radiation? Children? Yes to both! Too much exposure to UV radiation results in sunburn and skin diseases. A little UV radiation is needed by all humans, but we need to limit our exposure by using sun block, covering up with clothing and space suits, and wearing protective sunglasses and visors on our space helmets.
At this point the children have investigated the needs that they share with astronauts to maintain a healthy body.
Part 2. Excuses, Excuses
6. Invite the children to discover some of the reasons (excuses) given by kids and astronauts for not making healthy choices! Have the children reassemble in their two groups and give each group an "Astronaut Excuse" card and a "Kid Excuse Card."
7. Explain that you will share an excuse for not making a healthy choice. Each team will confer to determine if this is a kids' excuse, an astronauts' excuse, or both. After 1 minute, the team will make its selection and hold up that card — or both cards if it is both. Each team gets one point for each correct guess; the team with the most points wins!
|Taking a bath is such a hassle! (There are no showers or baths in space! Astronauts use wipes to keep their bodies clean!)|
|I'm not eating because somebody took my lunch (Believe it or not, there are certain foods that are favorites among the whole crew, and "someone" sometimes takes more than their allotment)|
|I don't understand why I have to eat foods I don't like (Astronauts have a very clear understanding of how critical a proper diet is to their health)|
|I would give anything for some fresh salad, but I just can't get any! (Fresh fruit and veggies are hard to find in space and are in great demand !)|
|I was too busy and didn't have time to exercise|
|The dog ate my homework (This is a trick question. Some children think that doing homework is bad for their health, however, there is no scientifically proven connection (yet) between homework and health. While there are no dogs allowed in space at present, you can be assured that astronauts have done their homework to prepare for their time in space!)|
|It's hard for me to sleep because there's too much noise and the Sun is in my eyes! The Sun rises and sets every 90 minutes on the space station.|
|I was too busy and didn't have time to eat. (Astronauts often lose weight in space)|
|I should have gotten back to work sooner, but I was having so much fun playing! (Astronauts love to play and have fun, too, which makes it difficult sometimes to return to a mundane task)|
|I have a choice of many different foods, but I just can't find anything I really want.|
|I forgot to put on sun block. (Astronauts are exposed to more UV radiation because they are above Earth's atmosphere; but they are well protected from sunburn by their spacesuit and helmet)|
|I don't want to exercise because I would rather talk to my friends and work on my computer. (Astronauts have to get lots of exercise each day — just like kids — but exercising means spending lots of time getting the equipment set up and then put away when they are done)|
|I love to go outside, and don't want to come in. (Astronauts like to suit up and work outside in space! Who wouldn't!?!)|
- Was anyone surprised by any of the answers? If so, why?
- Were any of the excuses given (by either astronauts or kids) good enough reasons for not making healthy choices? Nope!
- How many times can an astronaut or a kid make unhealthy choices before suffering negative effects? The answer to that will vary depending upon the person and the situation, but one thing is for sure. At some point there will be consequences!
Part 3. Healthy Choices
8. Invite the children to explore the consequences of not making healthy choices. Divide them into groups of 3 or 4 and provide each group with a few sheets of poster paper and colored markers.
9. Assign a topic to each group (sleep, exercise, fun and relaxation, cleanliness, well-balanced diet, limiting access to the sun). Groups may have the same topic.
10. Invite the groups to create a poster about their topic – Why is their topic necessary for staying healthy? What happens if they choose to not make the healthy choice?
11. Hang the posters around the room and invite each group to share their conclusions about the consequences of making healthy and unhealthy choices.
The children have explored the challenges of living in space, the importance of making healthy choices, and the consequences of making unhealthy choices. As a final part to this activity, the children will determine what they need to do to take care of the astronaut inside them!
Ask the children if they can see now how many things they have in common with astronauts.
Part 4. Tracing the Connections
12. Invite each child to find a partner and to trace their outlines on individual sheets of butcher paper. Provide each pair with a length of butcher paper about a foot longer than they are tall, and several colored markers (washable!). Have them tape the paper to the wall or just lay it on the floor and write the title "The Astronaut Inside of Me" at the top of their paper. Have one child stand against, or lay on, the butcher paper and have the partner trace an outline of his or her body using the markers.
13. When they are finished tracing, invite the children to draw a space suit around their body outline.
14. Prompt them to use the posters to identify what they need to stay healthy and why — and to indicate it on their "Astronaut In Me" poster. For example, they can draw an arrow to their leg and write "to maintain healthy bones, I need plenty of calcium and exercise." They could draw an arrow to their head and write "to keep my brain sharp, I need to get 8 hours of sleep each day."
In this module the children have learned some of the health challenges that face astronauts — and them(!), what excuses are often given by both astronauts and kids for not making healthy choices, the consequences of those choices, and what they need to do to nurture the astronaut inside of themselves!