PHOTOGRAPH BY ©2019 ILM AND LUCASFILM LTD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
PHOTOGRAPH BY ©2019 ILM AND LUCASFILM LTD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

How Star Wars can bring science to Earth-bound children

Looking for new ways to educate and entertain your kids? Visit NatGeo@Home for all kinds of resources—including quizzes, science experiments, lesson plans, and fun activities to do as a family.

How my kids developed a fascination for Star Wars without ever seeing a single movie in the series until recently was beyond me.

Although their fandom came with a force-like desire for licensed toys and merchandise, it also got me thinking about using the power of the pop culture phenomenon to home in on core concepts of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math). And with Rey (above) and her fellow Resistance fighters battling it out in the latest film Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, now's a great time to inspire kids through movie magic.

Theresa Hegedus, dean of instructional leadership and innovation at Randolph-Macon Academy in Front Royal, Virginia, encourages parents and educators to use movies and TV shows as an effective starting point for deeper learning. "They’re already hooked," she says. "So try to capitalize on that immersive experience as a pathway to motivate kids and stimulate thinking."

Luckily we don’t need to travel to a galaxy far, far away to use the Star Wars universe as a teaching tool. Here are three STEAM-themed ideas from National Geographic Family to get your little rebels exploring in some inspiring new directions.

Use lightsabers and X-wings to get a reality check on science.

Star Wars has inspired real scientists and engineers to explore the realities of things like blowing up the Death Star or finding planets like Jakku. No wonder the franchise has become a teaching resource.

How likely are we to one day experience the Millennium Falcon’s hyperspeed space travel, or wield a lightsaber like Rey?

Even Weird But True! facts can get kids excited about behind-the-scenes science. For instance, did you know that an actual Darth Vader flower looks like the villain—and smells evil? Or that the language of the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi is partly based on Tibetan and Nepali languages? Bizarre lessons like these can spark imaginations on a galactic scale.

For kids inspired by the engineering of R2-D2 and X-wings, check out Galactic Builders, a competition video series in which student robot builders learn about animatronics from the Disney engineers who built Galaxy’s Edge, the new Star Wars-inspired area at Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort. Or they can brush up on the history of space travel, build their own paper airplanes, or craft an Imperial Walker marionette.

Let Rey, Finn, and Poe inspire kids to be explorers.

Jedi are known for their legendary adventures and explorations. Your young Obi-Wan can explore right here on Earth. Aspiring astronomers can get their Luke Skywalker on by hosting a star-watching party with just a star chart and a light-free viewing spot. Passport to Space is another great way for kids to explore the universe with things like solar system videos, a personality quiz that tells them which planet they should live on, a silly fill-in-the-blank space story, and tons of info on planets.

Of course Star Wars doesn’t take place only in space. Use those terrestrial scenes—the Ewok’s moon of Endor, the Wookiee home of Kashyyyk, the ice planet of Hoth—to inspire children to explore this world. These movie locations were all filmed in real places (California’s redwood forests, Thailand, and Norway, respectively). Check them out, then see if your explorers can come up with local habitats that would make perfect Star Wars environments. Or plan your next family vacation to Tatooine!

They’ve seen the Star Wars universe. Now let them create their own.

One look at elaborate movie characters such as Chewbacca or BB-8 proves that Star Wars isn’t just about science—it’s about imagination and creativity as well. (I mean, just look at that chocolate Yoda above!) "Let the world inspire kids to build their own creations using simple engineering concepts," Hegedus says. "It’s all about using everyday materials and simulating creative thinking."

Using recycled materials from around the house, kids can create their own X-wing, cantina band instrument, or Hoth snow globe. Let Rebels’ Mandalorian graffiti artist Sabine Wren inspire doodlers how to draw a clone trooper while also teaching geometry and symmetry skills. Your youngest Jedi can participate by coloring their favorite characters. And fuel your family’s Force with healthy snacks like Yoda cucumber bites, fruitsabers, and Ham Solo pot pie.

So go forth, explore, and may the Force be with you.