What would it be like to take a stroll on the surface of Mars? If you could design the tallest building in the world, what would it look like? Do you dream of being the next J.K. Rowling? This summer, you can experience all of these things, and more. How? All you need is an Internet connection and your imagination.
A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that kids spend an average of 1 hour and 29 minutes online each day. Many kids like to use that time to chat with friends, play games or check e-mail. But the next time you get on the Web, try exploring the world instead. That's what Web search expert Dan Russell, of Google, encourages his students to do. "With the Internet, you can go back 11,000 years in time, or go 11,000 kilometers across the planet," Russell told TFK. "The whole scope of history and the world is open to you."
There is a wealth of information to be found online. But it doesn't have to be overwhelming, says Russell. The trick is to search smartly. For example, if your family is going on vacation somewhere, do a quick online search on the area before you even get in the car. "What's the background of the place; what's the history?" says Russell. "I like to tell my kids, 'Whenever you have a question, whenever you have a doubt, search it out.'"
Ready to launch a virtual journey of your own? Here are a few starting points to get you thinking and to help you on your way. You can invite your parents along for the ride, too. Always ask for permission before downloading programs and software onto your computer. And, check with a parent or adult before visiting any new Web site.
To the Moon!
Navigate the world in 3-D with Google Earth. Begin in outer space and zoom into the streets of any city, from Hong Kong to San Francisco. Or, visit ancient monuments (including Stonehenge in England, below), watch the changing rainforests over time, and dive underwater to explore tropical reefs or shipwrecks. The opportunities for exploration are endless.
With the Moon in Google Earth tool, you can walk in Neil Armstrong's famous footsteps. Take a guided tour of the moon's surface with Armstrong's fellow shuttle mate astronaut Buzz Aldrin. You'll be able to see exactly what they saw on their 1969 Apollo moon mission.
When you're done exploring that part of the solar system, hop on over to the Red Planet with Google Mars. There, you can zip around the surface and see images from the Mars Rovers. To get started, visit earth.google.com/moon and google.com/mars.
Visit a Galaxy Far, Far Away
Mars isn't the limit to how far in space you can go, though. See what lies outside of our solar system and even beyond the Milky Way galaxy at hubblesite.org. Over the past 20 years, the Hubble Telescope has taken some far-out images of worlds light years away. Visit the gallery to see the universe through Hubble's eye.
Build a Skyscraper
Google Sketchup lets budding architects design amazing 3-D models. You can create everything from concert hall to a spaceship to a floating garden. Visit sketchup.google.com to get sketching.
Travel to 1492
On the Library of Congress site, you can jump back in time to another era in American history. Want to know what happened on your birthday in the year 1914? Just plug in the date at americaslibrary.gov/jb/index.php and find out.
Write a Bestseller
Do you want to be the next J.K. Rowling or Jeff Kinney? You don't need to print out drafts to share them with a coauthor or editor (Mom and Dad). Save a tree, and use Google Docs instead. Teachers use this in schools to help kids peer-edit, but there's no reason you can't use it with your friends for a fun side project. Start brainstorming ideas for your dream novel today at docs.google.com.
Go On a Worldwide Treasure Hunt
Geocaching (geo-cashing) is high-tech treasure hunting game played by families around the world. To play, your family will need a GPS, or global tracking device. The GPS will help you locate where other players have hidden trinkets, notes and other secret items across the globe. If you find the treasure, you must replace it with a treasure of your own. Visit geocaching.com with a parent or guardian to find some locations and begin the hunt.
Track Your T
Being green never goes out of style with Track My T, a new Web site launched by organic clothing line Anvil Knitwear. With this interactive site, you can track the life cycle of a T-shirt, from its beginnings on a cotton farm to its journey to your closet. You'll also learn about ways you can reduce your carbon footprint. Start tracking at trackmyt.com.