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'I Don't Know. Go Ask Your Uncle Sam.'

By David L. Haase
The Indianapolis Star and News
Tuesday, October 6, 1998; Page A21

Uncle Sam, Homework Helper.

Who woulda thunk it?

But it's true. Cabinet departments and an assortment of federal agencies have added students to their audiences.

These sites for children range from the heavy-duty serious to the delightfully playful.

After I passed the eight-question quiz on the FEMA site with a perfect score (none, not one, wrong) I started thinking that maybe some of this learning stuff could actually be fun.

Of course, it's not all fun and games. After all, this is the government, which starts with a "g," as does "gray."

So for serious students (and teachers and parents), you've got FREE, Federal Resources for Educational Excellence at www.ed.gov/free/ on the Web.

Don't try to read what FREE is, just click on "Search & Subjects," type in what you're looking for, and go surfing on Uncle Sam's net.

I searched for material on Bulgaria (I like to challenge these sites, and the sciences are just not my subjects). Up popped 457 hits, from lots of government agencies, not just the State Department. I found stuff I could use.

FREE ranks as the heaviest of the heavy-duty sites. Right behind it, or maybe beside it, would be ESTEEM, Education in Science, Technology, Energy, Engineering and Math at www.sandia.gov/ ESTEEM/home.html.

Climate research, solar energy information, wind power information -- it's all way beyond me. I got lost on the playground. But if science is your shtick, ESTEEM may be your site. I noticed that only 21,325 people had used it in the last year, so they may need to do a little marketing.

On the other end of the seriousness scale lie Treasury's Page for Kids at www.ustreas.gov/kids/, FEMA for Kids at www.fema.gov/kids/ and AF Link Jr. and the Air Force site for children at www.af.mil/aflinkjr/.

Treasury's site features "Trez" the cat and a bunch of paw-print buttons that lead to tours of the Treasury building and the dog of the month.

At the Lemonade Stand, Treasury walks you through starting a business (you pick a lemonade stand, lawn mowing business or rock band) and paying taxes.

You almost have to be a child to appreciate the Air Force's AF Link Jr. I say that because I could not log on because I didn't understand how, whereas I am sure any youngster would get it immediately. Who ever would have imagined they would put the password right out in the open?

Capt. Zoom shows you why planes fly and how to make several paper airplanes. And you can e-mail an Air Force postcard to friends.

Good stuff, heavy on game-teaching. Of course, the Air Force always did get the neatest toys.

FEMA is my favorite for tackling a serious subject in a fun way.

Point at a state on the map and FEMA tells you what kinds of natural disasters can occur there.

What goes into a disaster supply kit? How will you feel during a disaster? What do you do with your pet when your house is blowing down?

FEMA answers the questions with some cool art, and then asks, "What did you learn?" (Did I mention that I got all eight questions correct?)

Of course, the White House and the FBI, Washington's two favorite tourist spots, also have sites for children, but so does Washington's least visited agency, the CIA. It's at www.odci.gov/cia/ciakids/.

I guess you can never be too young to be a spook.

In addition to pictures of spy cameras and tire-destroying caltrops (see what they are at the exhibit center), the CIA site links to its wonderful World Factbook and has a page of links to other children's sites.

At these other government sites for children:

See through Yorick, the skeleton, at the Food and Drug Administration at www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/kids/.

Check the FBI's 10 Most Wanted at the Department of Justice at www.usdoj.gov/kidspage/.

Follow foreign policy from Ben Franklin to the present at the State Department's Digital Diplomacy for Students site at www.state.gov/www/regions_digital.html.

View Earth from way, way up in the sky at NASA's KidSat at http://kidsat.jpl.nasa.gov/.

Investigate water projects at the U.S. Geological Survey's Water Science for Schools at wwwga.usgs.gov/edu/.

Do serious research using original documents at the National Archives at www.nara.gov/education.

Your tax dollars at work. Might as well use 'em.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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