Looking for an interactive, non-threatening way for your kids to learn about HIV and AIDS? Have them visit the New York Hall of Science's Homepage on the Internet (www.nyhallsci.org), where they can view the first complete museum exhibition designed specifically for the World Wide Web. The online "What About Aids" Website is a spinoff from the original traveling AIDS exhibit created by microbiologist Martin Weiss, manager of biology at the New York Hall of Science, who developed this project in conjunction with members of the National AIDS Exhibit Consortium, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Medical Association.
In 1995, the New York Hall of Science was the recipient of a National Institutes of Health grant. Funds were earmarked for the development of the Internet version of the "What About AIDS" program, as well as for the eventual creation of a CD-ROM version of the exhibit.
The online site has won rave reviews from the children, parents and educators who have viewed it. Lycos praised it as "one of the top five percent health-related sites on the Internet."
The online exhibit, which opens with a "parental discretion advised" warning, has a number of different sections which use pictures, personal stories, and special effects to teach children about the HIV virus, the immune system, and AIDS prevention and treatment. A picture of a healthy-looking but somber teenage girl is followed by her tragic tale, which reads in part, "Guess what? I've never done drugs, but my old boyfriend has HIV, and now, so do I."
One site, specifically designed for youngsters, called 'What Kids Need to Know', begins simply by saying, "AIDS is a very serious illness." In simple, child-friendly language, it explains the etiology and transmission of the HIV virus ("you can't get it from hugs or sneezes"), and reassures kids that it's okay to share toys, use a toilet, play with a friend or touch a person who has AIDS.
Besides using the informational sites, users are able to ask questions via E-mail, and can also contribute to a special section called 'Remembering' which is devoted to memorializing loved ones affected by AIDS. An online evaluation survey and a question and comment section are also available.
Although the original exhibition was geared primarily to children over the age of 10, the Internet version can be used by younger kids as well. Parents are encouraged to consider their children's knowledge about AIDS and their developmental level before introducing them to the site, and it is often helpful for parents to view the program along with their children. Gail Moss, a psychotherapist and mother of an 11-year-old son, says, "It's very important for us to talk with our children about health issues such as HIV, and it's really helpful to have a tool which points out the pertinent facts and gives us a jumping-off place." And Enrique Rosas, a 10-year-old student at P.S. 19 in Queens, comments, "My teacher taught us about AIDS, but this Web page is really cool ? I learned a lot of new stuff from it!"