How to safely introduce your kids to model rocketry

AstroAbaqus

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I would like to ask you all a simple question, which is on your experience the best way to introduce rocketry to your kids? More specifically to my daughter ( Aurora )who is 4 and half years old? For several reasons, she grow up in a family deeply involved in STEM since we are both working at University, she was playing with mum Allen keys when 18 months old xD. In the last year especially she saw the rise of my HPR and started to ask to be involved. At the start I believed this was just curiosity but then she really started to ask me how to pack the parachute, how to ignite the engine, why I needed a flight computer and all sort of questions. She sometime sneak in my office while I am building and if I am not handling anything dangerous she is more than welcome. Few days ago she asked me if we can build one togheter, a small one. Now I just realised that most of the stuff I use is in some way dangerous or toxic ( not lethal of course, but need attention). I was thinking to let her choose a basic Estes kit and togheter assemble it with wood glue, which should be not that bad even if she touch it. Mum is supporting but asked me to be cautions, I will ask also to my club for advice but just wanted to ask to a broader community to have some advice and if you had kids involved how to ensure they can have fun in the safest way. Lastly, do you think is too early? I should tell her to wait and only bring her with me to the various events?

Thank you all in advance.
 

OverTheTop

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What about starting off with an Estes ready to fly rocket. Just add motor and fly! My daughter had one if these when she was six, and I had bigger rockets. She never was interested in building, but flying was fun. So maybe one kit and one RTF for your situation?

She did a talk and demo for girl guides to get her space badge when she was about eight.
 

AstroAbaqus

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Thats a definitely great idea, I think there are also kits that are basically plug and launch, with the fin and motor block in plastic that you have to assemble without glue, I nearly forgot. I will have a look!
 

neil_w

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The Estes Generic E2X is a blank slate that your daughter can decorate to her heart's content using markers, stickers, or whatever, to really make it hers. And letting her push the launch button should be fun. :)
 
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NateB

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My son started with me when he was just under 4. He had the foam stomp rockets that are in my profile picture and I've helped him build a Wizard and Alpha III with wood glue. No issues there. I handle the motors for him, but he pushes the launch button. I haven't let him use epoxy yet, but the Mach 1 fiberglass LPR kits are kid proof when he decides to play with them.
 

prfesser

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Titebond II says "Non toxic" and "FDA Approved for Indirect Food Contact" which is about as nontoxic as it gets. Should be no issues with a toddler using wood glue, especially if she's as smart as you've indicated. Though eating it should probably be discouraged.

The double-glue method for attaching fins is a plus for little kids, as the fins don't have to be held in place for interminable minutes. Works especially well with a quick-grabbing glue like TB II.
 

PhilC

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My grandson launched his first rocket at that age. We've also had families at our club who build rockets together and launch together. A common hobby seems to be a good way of bonding with kids, especially if they have an input to the project. The 'I made that' factor gets them involved. At that age a rocket is a really cool 'show and tell' project at school!
You could try building simple card & balsa rockets with wood glue as they're fairly harmless materials. They can be easily decorated with permanent pens to personalise the rocket. Other projects could include making simple parachutes and streamers (space blankets are great for that).
 

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The plastic fin can models were the best bet. RTF don't have enough effort for interest. Those are basically fireworks without a bang. There has to be some challenge. I built a Wizard and Alpha when I was a kid. Crooked fins on both.

I wish there was a 30min glue like epoxy, that was not toxic though. Just make sure to have a few extra kits incase one motor mount sticks too soon. Although, I don't recall ever having an issue with fin can models, when I was a kid.
 

smstachwick

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Getting to pack, hook up, and launch a ready-to-fly rocket is usually how I recommend doing things. But since it’s her who wants to get involved instead of you who wants to introduce it, and you have probably showed her a few things already, I can’t see anything wrong with getting started on a beginner’s kit. That’s how I did it in the early 2000s with an Alpha III.

In either case, I usually recommend something with a standard 18mm motor mount and a BT-50 (25mm outer diameter) tube. An Estes Athena RTF or a Generic E2X both fit the bill, and they’re easier to pack than the Alpha family rockets that come with shorter tubes. With the Athena you may want to rip off that plastic launch lug and install one of your own, since that glue joint is not very strong.
 

AstroAbaqus

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The plastic fin can models were the best bet. RTF don't have enough effort for interest. Those are basically fireworks without a bang. There has to be some challenge. I built a Wizard and Alpha when I was a kid. Crooked fins on both.

I wish there was a 30min glue like epoxy, that was not toxic though. Just make sure to have a few extra kits incase one motor mount sticks too soon. Although, I don't recall ever having an issue with fin can models, when I was a kid.
The two kit idea is really smart! If she mess it would be nice if she can carry on.

My grandson launched his first rocket at that age. We've also had families at our club who build rockets together and launch together. A common hobby seems to be a good way of bonding with kids, especially if they have an input to the project. The 'I made that' factor gets them involved. At that age a rocket is a really cool 'show and tell' project at school!
You could try building simple card & balsa rockets with wood glue as they're fairly harmless materials. They can be easily decorated with permanent pens to personalise the rocket. Other projects could include making simple parachutes and streamers (space blankets are great for that).

Yes building stuff togheter is really bonding, we started with LEGO during lockdown and then she got closer to dad stuff. The idea of pens to decor is also nice since she like to draw. I have plenty leftover which can be used as scrap material for a new small rocket.

I will start with simple things and see her response, hopefully weather in UK will be nice soon so I can bring to some launches.
 

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In my experience the small kids don't have the attention span to wait to re-pack a rocket.

When my kids were little we had 4-5 rockets, all prepped and ready to go. We'd hit the field with another family who also had their rockets prepped and ready. We'd launch, kids would run out and retrieve them, then one of the parents would help load and launch the next round while the other repacked the launched rockets. As long as we kept them counting down, pressing buttons, and running after their rockets they stayed engaged.

As they get older they'll get more patient and wait or help with the repacking (maybe your daughter's already got that patience). Until then, it's all about the action.

As for safety: make sure they're the minimum distance away when launching, help them with the controller to make sure they don't press when the range isn't clear and tell them to watch where they're stepping when they run.
 

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I started my boys with Fliskits Whatchamacallits. The jig tech fins are great, you only need Elmer's white glue. 13 mm means the don't fly too high. They can choose which way the fins go on (swept forward or backwards). My youngest was maybe 2. I've used this rocket with scouts as well.

Keep it fun. Let her cover it in stickers or whatever.
 

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My family was visiting Goddard Spaceflight Center Giftshop where we purchased an RTF Estes Athena. We went out to a school sports field and launched it. The kids got to push the button and then run and recover it, which was their favorite part. From there, we eventually started going to club launches, and I got more into building bigger and bigger rockets. As my interest in the hobby grew, so did the kids. And now they build and launch their own.
 

tjkopena

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One goof I've made is my daughter and @Antares JS' daughter were playing a typical little kid game at an MDRA launch, sniffing spent black powder engines and then extravagantly throwing them down, yelling "UUUGGGH! GROSS!!", etc.. Then they got into some spent composites and it didn't click for me until Antares pointed it out that those generate chlorine gas and other things probably worse than black powder...

To all the good suggestions so far I add:
  • If using simple Estes-style launchers, consider elevating or otherwise doing something with the launch rod. This is actually what's scared me the most doing launches with very young kids: One of them tripping and gouging an eye on the rod. Very similarly, secure and/or keep the kids away from launch cables that they will definitely either trip on or catch on their sneakers and drag apart the whole setup.
  • If you're at a long launch, make sure they stay hydrated and fed, with sunscreen and bug spray on if applicable (we have a lot of ticks in our region).
  • Bring some other activities to do, like coloring. Don't get upset if they just want to chill out in the car awhile. I have to remind myself that 5 or 6 hours at a launch, plus the driving, is a real long day for a kid, with both a lot of overstimulation and a lot of nothing happening. It's fine if she just wants to hide for a break mid-day.
  • Losing a rocket to a tree or corn will be pretty upsetting the first time, but it's a great set of life lessons. Also good though to have another rocket on hand so your launch doesn't end abruptly.
  • In construction, I'm a big fan of gel superglue in many applications, especially the bottles with squeezable sides. It dispenses easily and in a controlled fashion, and sets immediately, before little rocketeers get bored or start fiddling with uncured parts, etc.. Definitely only to be used with supervision and reasonable ventilation, but I think ok with that caveat.
 
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neil_w

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  • Losing a rocket to a tree or corn will be pretty upsetting the first time, but it's a great set of life lessons. Also good though to have another rocket on hand so your launch doesn't end abruptly.
This reminds me of one of the most important rules: Always, always, ALWAYS take *at least* two rockets to a launch; three is better. This applies to kids, grandparents, and everyone in between.
 

BigMacDaddy

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Some good entry-level rockets:

 

prfesser

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Please, please...if you take your kids to a club launch, PLEASE impress on them that the rules ARE VERY IMPORTANT. In particular they need to be on the spectator side of the flight line unless you're with them. It's one of the two or three major issues I've had to deal with as LCO at club launches; standing there waiting for a kid to get back behind the LCO table so the rack can be launched.
 

AstroAbaqus

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Please, please...if you take your kids to a club launch, PLEASE impress on them that the rules ARE VERY IMPORTANT. In particular they need to be on the spectator side of the flight line unless you're with them. It's one of the two or three major issues I've had to deal with as LCO at club launches; standing there waiting for a kid to get back behind the LCO table so the rack can be launched.
Absolutely, is really important to me that she understands that in each place and activity there are rules that even dad have to follow. But yes thanks and I will also rely on the help of my club and will always follow the rules, is fun only if is also safe!
 

BigMacDaddy

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At this age I think you can also just build some easy models and just launch at a local park (assuming that is legal / allowed near you). Mini engine are great for small parks -- for 18mm engines I try to find a football field sized field but for mini engines (or lowered powered 18mm stuff) you can use a baseball field. It will draw your attention away and create much more chaos for her to go to a club launch. Calmly launching a few rockets you built where you can talk one on one to her and where she can chase after them (most fun for kids) is likely much more enjoyable. You can work your way up to club launches.
 

AstroAbaqus

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At this age I think you can also just build some easy models and just launch at a local park (assuming that is legal / allowed near you). Mini engine are great for small parks -- for 18mm engines I try to find a football field sized field but for mini engines (or lowered powered 18mm stuff) you can use a baseball field. It will draw your attention away and create much more chaos for her to go to a club launch. Calmly launching a few rockets you built where you can talk one on one to her and where she can chase after them (most fun for kids) is likely much more enjoyable. You can work your way up to club launches.
This is a really wise advise, especially because despite the launch area is such a beauty, it has for sure its pro and cons especially at this age. The only issue is that it may not be completely legal to do this, even with very small model rockets in a public space. I will have to find out, but thanks for your point of view.
 

tjkopena

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This is a little bit of self-advertising, but in addition to the great options discussed above, I suggest that Quest's 1/8A 6mm Micromaxx (MMX) motors are under-utilized for beginning rocketry. You get all the elements of a larger model rocket launch---electrical igniters, black powder, wadding, ejection charge, etc---but the ability to launch in tiny spaces. Kid-appropriate rockets are inexpensive, super fast to build, and durable. Motors are cheap. You can build and decorate a couple rockets then ride your bikes over to the neighborhood ball field or school yard and conduct a whole bunch of launches, all within just a couple hours. My daughter (she's 6 now) and I have had a blast building and flying them. Earlier in the pandemic when nothing else was going on we were building rockets and doing launches every week on some soccer fields around the corner.

PXL_20210313_1325122372-scaled.jpg

The main drawback is that MMX is niche. You won't find motors last minute in any physical retail store. More importantly, there aren't (currently) many kid friendly kits available. Unfortunately, Quest's MMX ready-to-flies are very disappointing and shouldn't be used for a kid's first experience unless you have one you know flies well. Many kits from various other manufacturers are conceptually simple but not kid friendly just because the parts are so small.

Two that probably work well for young builders:
  • FlisKits' doo-Hickey. This is a downscale of their Thing-a-ma-jig and uses the same JigTech interlocking fins to make construction easy.
  • Semroc MX Fat Boy. A standard rocket, but with bigger components than most MMX kits.
I also low-key produce MMX kits. The R6 is explicitly designed to be particularly kid friendly while also an "actual" kit---not an RTF or ARF, but still one kids can build with minimal supervision. The airframe and styling was actually designed by my daughter and then I worked out a kit for it that she could build easily. Chris Michielssen has a very detailed build log on his blog. Another kid friendly kit, the R1, will be out at the end of this month; a build log is in the MMX forum. The R3, R4, and R7 are also approachable, just a small step closer to a more standard model.

2635761329.jpg

Long story short, MMX rockets are great, especially if adequately sized launch sites are an issue. Definitely fewer options available than more typical rockets, but worth considering at least.
 

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A few pieces of advice, also kind of generalized to anyone else reading the thread.
  • Let your child lead. It looks like you're doing this already, but it's worth saying again. There's a lot fo different kinds of rockets and rocketry, and your child will stay interested longer if they're exploring the things that they're interested in. After they do something (building, going to a launch, etc.) ask if they had fun and what their favorite parts were and what they want to do again. If they say they didn't like something, file it away. Next time that comes up, ask if they want to do it.
  • Keep attention span in mind. If they're starting to lose focus after gluing on two fins, set it aside and glue on the third later. This helps keep it fun and not a slog.
  • Set expectations, but keep them reasonable. In my experience, kids generally try to meet your expectations if they can. If you say in your kid's hearing (and their hearing is good!) that it'll be hard to have them at an organized launch because they'll be running all over the place, you've just given them permission to run all over the place at the launch. Talk with them a few times before the launch, including as you're rolling up, about what your behavior expectations are. Along those lines, if you know that your child will need to run around every half hour or they'll go crazy, build some time to do that in an area that won't cause trouble for anyone else. If they're not meeting expectations, remind them of that. The calmer you are about that and the better you demonstrate the same expectations, the lower the drama will be.
  • Don't try to be too clean. Kids this age will be messy with glue, paint, markers, etc. Plan the workspace and their clothes around that. Wood glue comes off of fingers as long as you start rubbing them together while it's still wet.
  • This may be controversial, but don't encourage them to catch the rocket. It's just been on fire, and if they're looking up, they're not looking at where they're stepping and are more likely to trip and fall. If the rocket is still high in the air, I also like to stay in one place and track it until it's closer to the ground and more visible. That way I can split attention between where I'm going and where the rocket is without losing the rocket.
  • Develop a safety culture. When our kids were little, my wife and I made safety a debate-ending word. Once we said "it's for safety", we expected the kids to do what we asked them to do right away. They could still discuss the issue, but only after following the instruction. For rocketry, there's obvious things (stay behind the flight line while launching, no running in the prep area, pay attention to rockets in the air/stay with adults who are paying attention, safe knife use, etc.). Talk about this ahead of time several times, especially when you're going to a launch. The absolute hardest thing about this as an adult is only playing the safety card when there is a real safety issue right in front of you and not something like making a mess with wood glue.
That turned into more of a tome than I intended. I hope it's helpful!
 

smstachwick

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A few pieces of advice, also kind of generalized to anyone else reading the thread.
  • Let your child lead. It looks like you're doing this already, but it's worth saying again. There's a lot fo different kinds of rockets and rocketry, and your child will stay interested longer if they're exploring the things that they're interested in. After they do something (building, going to a launch, etc.) ask if they had fun and what their favorite parts were and what they want to do again. If they say they didn't like something, file it away. Next time that comes up, ask if they want to do it.
  • Keep attention span in mind. If they're starting to lose focus after gluing on two fins, set it aside and glue on the third later. This helps keep it fun and not a slog.
  • Set expectations, but keep them reasonable. In my experience, kids generally try to meet your expectations if they can. If you say in your kid's hearing (and their hearing is good!) that it'll be hard to have them at an organized launch because they'll be running all over the place, you've just given them permission to run all over the place at the launch. Talk with them a few times before the launch, including as you're rolling up, about what your behavior expectations are. Along those lines, if you know that your child will need to run around every half hour or they'll go crazy, build some time to do that in an area that won't cause trouble for anyone else. If they're not meeting expectations, remind them of that. The calmer you are about that and the better you demonstrate the same expectations, the lower the drama will be.
  • Don't try to be too clean. Kids this age will be messy with glue, paint, markers, etc. Plan the workspace and their clothes around that. Wood glue comes off of fingers as long as you start rubbing them together while it's still wet.
  • This may be controversial, but don't encourage them to catch the rocket. It's just been on fire, and if they're looking up, they're not looking at where they're stepping and are more likely to trip and fall. If the rocket is still high in the air, I also like to stay in one place and track it until it's closer to the ground and more visible. That way I can split attention between where I'm going and where the rocket is without losing the rocket.
  • Develop a safety culture. When our kids were little, my wife and I made safety a debate-ending word. Once we said "it's for safety", we expected the kids to do what we asked them to do right away. They could still discuss the issue, but only after following the instruction. For rocketry, there's obvious things (stay behind the flight line while launching, no running in the prep area, pay attention to rockets in the air/stay with adults who are paying attention, safe knife use, etc.). Talk about this ahead of time several times, especially when you're going to a launch. The absolute hardest thing about this as an adult is only playing the safety card when there is a real safety issue right in front of you and not something like making a mess with wood glue.
That turned into more of a tome than I intended. I hope it's helpful!
I like this. Walking the line between an authority figure charged with maintaining safety and being a control freak is a tricky thing but it’s not impossible.

I especially like the bit about letting the kids lead. My father was great about this, I often was the one who picked out our kits, third-party components, motors, paint colors, etc. He set a firm budget and provided a few words of guidance (“that looks pretty hard, are you sure?”) but it was obvious that this was my hobby and he was a very strong supporter instead of it being the other way around.
 

AstroAbaqus

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A few pieces of advice, also kind of generalized to anyone else reading the thread.
  • Let your child lead. It looks like you're doing this already, but it's worth saying again. There's a lot fo different kinds of rockets and rocketry, and your child will stay interested longer if they're exploring the things that they're interested in. After they do something (building, going to a launch, etc.) ask if they had fun and what their favorite parts were and what they want to do again. If they say they didn't like something, file it away. Next time that comes up, ask if they want to do it.
  • Keep attention span in mind. If they're starting to lose focus after gluing on two fins, set it aside and glue on the third later. This helps keep it fun and not a slog.
  • Set expectations, but keep them reasonable. In my experience, kids generally try to meet your expectations if they can. If you say in your kid's hearing (and their hearing is good!) that it'll be hard to have them at an organized launch because they'll be running all over the place, you've just given them permission to run all over the place at the launch. Talk with them a few times before the launch, including as you're rolling up, about what your behavior expectations are. Along those lines, if you know that your child will need to run around every half hour or they'll go crazy, build some time to do that in an area that won't cause trouble for anyone else. If they're not meeting expectations, remind them of that. The calmer you are about that and the better you demonstrate the same expectations, the lower the drama will be.
  • Don't try to be too clean. Kids this age will be messy with glue, paint, markers, etc. Plan the workspace and their clothes around that. Wood glue comes off of fingers as long as you start rubbing them together while it's still wet.
  • This may be controversial, but don't encourage them to catch the rocket. It's just been on fire, and if they're looking up, they're not looking at where they're stepping and are more likely to trip and fall. If the rocket is still high in the air, I also like to stay in one place and track it until it's closer to the ground and more visible. That way I can split attention between where I'm going and where the rocket is without losing the rocket.
  • Develop a safety culture. When our kids were little, my wife and I made safety a debate-ending word. Once we said "it's for safety", we expected the kids to do what we asked them to do right away. They could still discuss the issue, but only after following the instruction. For rocketry, there's obvious things (stay behind the flight line while launching, no running in the prep area, pay attention to rockets in the air/stay with adults who are paying attention, safe knife use, etc.). Talk about this ahead of time several times, especially when you're going to a launch. The absolute hardest thing about this as an adult is only playing the safety card when there is a real safety issue right in front of you and not something like making a mess with wood glue.
That turned into more of a tome than I intended. I hope it's helpful!

Thank you so much! This was really a welcomed and appreciated list of points I will use for sure!
 

cerving

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Kids love rockets with a clear payload tube, you can put a little figure in there and they get real excited about seeing them fly.
 

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My latest return to rocketry was due to my girlfriend buying her nieces model rockets. They were 5 and 9 at the time. We were in a hobby store and they had some rockets on clearance. We picked up a starter kit with the Cross fire and Amazon that came with the launch pad and controller. We also picked up an Alpha Vi kit at the same time.

We went back and built the Alpha with the girls. It was a simple process and we let them take turns doing certain steps of the build. We then took it out and I taught them how to insert the wadding, pack the chute, load the motor and connect the leads to the igniter and launch it.

My recommendation is that you get a basic starter set like the Alpha or the Riptide and grab a couple of other basic easy to assemble kits like the generic E2X, Illusion, Chiller and Phantom Blue to name a few. These are all easy to assemble kits with plastic fins so you don't have to worry about aligning anything. They are also colorful so they tend to keep kids attention.

Next I'd recommend flying on the smallest recommended motors. For the Riptide and Chillers that would be the B4-4 motor. Everything else listed would use the A8-3. I say this as you are more likely to recover the rocket using the smallest motor. Losing a rocket can really turn off a new person.

My last piece of advise is to have fun with it. Take precautions to ensure everyone is safe but don't make this seem like a chore.
 
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kramer714

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I recommend the Discount Rocketry Turbo Discount Rocketry Turbo Easy to build for kids, and tube fins can be fixed / un-squished very easily. I dont recommend 18mm minimum diameter, it is harder to get the chute / streamer in them plus a little lower / slower flight is good for young kids. When I used to run youth launches, this was the rocket I used. I helped build hundreds of these with kids groups. Easy to get the fins on, just use a rubber band to holdthe tube fins in place until the glue dries. Seen them fly with a-d motors.

Mike K
 
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