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Space Education by JAXA - Fostering Young Hearts and Minds - Space School for a Bright Future for Children Sumio Endo Director, KU-MA (Kodomo Uchu Mirai Association)

Space Connects Us with the Chain of Life

Q. First of all, could you give us the profile of your organization, KU-MA?

Space School focuses on parent-child learning
Space School focuses on parent-child learning

Opening ceremony of Space School in Kokubunji city, May 2009
Opening ceremony of Space School in Kokubunji city, May 2009

KU-MA stands for Kodomo Uchu Mirai Association (in English, "Children, Space, Future Association"). It is a group of people who wish to build a bright future for children, and to enrich their hearts. We have about 320 members right now, and we operate Space School in collaboration with JAXA. Space School offers an education program across Japan that focuses on home learning, encouraging parents and children to work together.

Q. What is the attraction of space for you?

The attraction of space is that it gives us a strong sense of life and dreams. The universe began with the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. Then, 4.6 billion years ago, the Earth was formed, and then life was born. All of that is the foundation for our own lives today.
Space shows us: 1) that the relay of life, for which we now carry the torch, goes far back, to the birth of our planet; 2) how miraculous it is for us to be able to live at this moment on the planet Earth; and 3) that we all contribute to the Earth today together with all the other living beings. This reminds us how precious life is, and enables us to tell our children why life is so valuable, which is one of the main goals of space education.
Moreover, space is still full of unsolved mysteries, which make it hugely attractive and exciting. I think that sense of wonder stays in children's minds for a long time, and even after it fades it can be triggered again by an event later in life. That sense of wonder can lead to new personal discoveries.
Space offers us a lot of possibilities, and is full of exciting educational themes. Exploring space stimulates the intellectual curiosity we have from birth, and spurs our spirit of adventure. For these reasons, I believe that space can foster the dreams of children.

Encouraging the Bond Between Parents and Children Through Learning Together

Q. Could you tell us about the Space School program.

Hot air balloon flying high in the air
Hot air balloon flying high in the air

Space School offers a year-long home-learning program, mainly for children five to seven years old, before they start to study science at school. At present, working with local boards of education and Rotary Clubs, we have set up about 20 Space Schools nationwide, from Hokkaido to Okinawa, and they are open to new applicants. Enrollment requires participation by both parent and child.
The opening ceremony is held at the first classroom session, where home-study materials are handed out. After that, classes are held to bring everyone together every two to three months, and in between, participants study at home. What materials to use and how many assignments to give out is up to each school, but the parent and child must work together. About five classes are held throughout the year, and for those we choose topics that cannot be tried out at home. For example, one home lesson involves floating a small bag using a common hair dryer, but in the class everyone works together to build a large hot air balloon that rises 30 to 40 meters in the sky.
Space School offers many different materials to meet a variety of demands from children. The materials are generally in the form of pamphlets that introduce experiments and observations that can be carried out using objects found in the home. To stimulate children's curiosity, these pamphlets are designed from their point of view. For example, it is important to title materials in a way that children can easily understand. For instance, when the topic of the experiment is "absorption reaction," the title will be "Why does my mouth feel cool when I eat fizzy candy?" Also, sometimes, we deliberately avoid detailed explanations, to encourage children to make discoveries on their own, and also to create an opportunity for their parents to join in. We plan to develop 14 new home-lesson kits this year, so that we'll have over 60 in total. That means that even if a child does one home lesson every week, it will take more than a year to go through them all.

Q. Apart from teaching materials, is there anything else that Space School pays special attention to?

Parents and children making windmills
Parents and children making windmills

We try to bring parents and children together as much as possible. To achieve this, we add a trick so that assignments cannot be completed without the help of a parent. Also, at the class sessions, which are held several times throughout the year, instructors are not the only ones who teach. We first give instructions to the parents, and then tell the children to go and learn from their fathers or mothers. Some parents are not very good at this. In these cases, I often see parents helping each other, or taking care of the children of others.
Due to the limited space for the classroom sessions, we usually don't use desks or tables, to maximize the number of participants and to facilitate interaction. A typical scene is parents and children making something together on plastic tarps spread on the gymnasium floor. Parents have told us that today they rarely have a chance to make something with their children, and in fact, for many of them, the first experience of doing this happens at Space School. So I think that Space School is providing a great opportunity to deepen the bond between parents and children, and for children to look up to their fathers and mothers.
"Sottaku no toki" means "timing is everything," and I often say this when talking about timeliness in education. When a baby bird is ready to break the egg from the inside, the parent bird pecks the egg from the outside to help it come out. "Sottaku no toki" means "the right action at the right time." I think it is very important to give children a hand precisely when they desire to know or to try, and there is no one who can do this better than their parents. At school, the curriculum - what to teach and when to teach it - is highly regulated, so it is difficult to provide a suitable study program that fits with each child. I think it is parents who can respond to their children most flexibly.
The idea of home learning is that parents, who are closest to their children, can better educate them through interaction. The mission of the Space School is to help this process.

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