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To the moon

Lauran Simpson's voice remained calm as she spoke into the telephone.

The 3-year-old saw no reason to become alarmed even though it seemed that she had lost contact with her friends who had just blasted off into outer space.

Their destination: the moon.

"Hello. Hello? Hello!" she said. "Are you there, astronauts? Where are you, astronauts?

"They're not answering."

Assuming there was something wrong with the telephone, Lauran moved to the next phone station at the mission control board, which was built by her teacher, Nan Robins, at Hernando Christian Academy.

"Hello, Mr. Astronaut. Hello! Hello!" she said again.

"I have to find out if he has enough food, like his Spaghettios," she said.

With no luck at station 2, she moved to the third and final phone station. At first it seemed that she would not make contact, but finally she got an answer.

"There you are," she said. "I've been calling and calling you, Mr. Astronaut. Did you eat your Spaghettios?"

Satisfied that Mr. Astronaut was okay, Lauran hung up and joined her pre-kindergarten classmates who were busy roaming the classroom during "Moon Day," a two-hour activity Friday, which concluded their week-long lesson on outer space.

With music from Star Wars being played, some of the children amused themselves in the 7-foot, red, white and blue space shuttle that the class had made earlier in the week. Some rolled around on their home-made, green cloth moon walk, which was covered with moon rocks that the children had made by stuffing brown, paper lunch bags with newspaper and spray-painting them silver.

Others rode around the classroom on small tricycles that they had converted into moon buggies by wrapping them in aluminum foil.

They were all dressed like astronauts in silver jump suits, home-made helmets, oxygen tanks, gloves and masks. One little girl tromped around in a pair of home-made moon boots, which were rubber boots glued to large sponges that were wrapped in aluminum foil.

Robins believes that children learn through experiences, so, each year, she offers several "real-life" learning activities to the children. This week, her classroom will transform into the Old West; the children will become cowboys and cowgirls to prepare for HCA's Country Festival on Saturday.

"I think they learn so much more through active participation," she said. "They are taught to use their imagination and pretend.

"Learning should be fun."

During the class's week-long lesson on outer space, Robins discussed gravity, oxygen, planets and stars and space travel.

Although the children's ability to grasp scientific concepts is limited, Robins said most had some knowledge about space and space travel. They talked about looking up at the stars at night and watching the space shuttle on television, she said.

"It's pretty amazing what these children already knew," she said. "They knew that astronauts traveled to the moon, and they went in space ships and that it takes a very, very long time to get there."

Robins told them that moon rocks were brought back to earth, and that astronauts could float in space because there was less gravity in space. She told them that oxygen tanks were needed because astronauts could not breathe in space.

"They seemed to understand what I was talking about when I could relate it to something they knew," she said. "I compared the lack of oxygen to underwater swimming, and how we must hold our breath underwater."

Moon Day concluded with a special Lunar Lunch, which consisted of spacey spaghetti, meteor meatballs, moon pies and Jupiter juice.

Little Ava Baylor sat in the space shuttle with her friend, Jennifer Whatley. They were still waiting to blast off. They didn't realize that the blast-off was over and that they had reached their destination.

"We're not there yet," Ava said. "We're going on Friday. We're going to the moon, wherever it is."

"Where's the moon?" Jennifer repeated. "It's up there," she said as she pointed to the ceiling. "That's where it is, waaaaaay up there."

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