The night sky, a vast and, at times, daunting entity. If you are like most people, you probably have a limited knowledge of what you are looking at up there, and if your kids are reaching that age where their most used phrases contain the words “why?” or “how?”, then the dark sky can be an intimidating topic of conversation. No need to worry, there are many ways to fill your child’s appetite for celestial information which doesn’t require extensive prior knowledge on your part.
One really simple activity you can do with your child is to create a moon observation chart. All you need is a calendar in which they can draw what the moon looks like on each day. Over time they will begin to see the patterns of the moon, and depending on your interests, you can then begin getting more into the waxing (getting bigger) and waning (getting smaller) cycles and why parts of the moon disappear. A little rhyme that I learned to help me with the cycles of the moon is…
If you see the Moon at the end of the day
A bright Full Moon is on its way
If you see the Moon in the early dawn
Look real quick, it will soon be gone.
Another activity you can do which is a bit more involved would be to observe and construct constellations. Before star gazing, look up a constellation that will be present that night, and map it out on construction paper. Constellations such as the Big Dipper, Orion, and Scorpio are good ones to start with as they are bright, clear, and up in the early evening depending on the time of the year. As you and your child stargaze, have them try to find the constellation using their drawing as a guide. A fun twist on this is to use toothpicks and marshmallows to construct the constellations as seen below.
Now stargazing is all well and good, but if you don’t have a telescope and you are not particularly good at identifying the different constellations older children may get bored more easily. This can be a good time to bring in some technology. For those of you with smart phones there are several free apps which can be used to view the night sky and identify not only constellations but other celestial bodies as well. For Apple users Sky View is your best bet as far as free and easy to use. For Android users Star Chart and Droid Sky View both offer ease of use and no cost, although Star Chart tends to have better quality and actual planetary images. By using these apps you will be able to point at the night sky and work out exactly what you’re looking at.
Many of us take for granted the beauty and wonder of our natural surroundings. The night sky is a perfect example of a piece of nature that is present all the time, and we rarely think about it or even fully understand what’s actually up there. Hopefully, by doing some of these activities you will be reminded of how much else there is out there and join with your children to become part of it all.