Since the first child looked up and pondered the heavens, kids across the ages have gazed at the moon and stars with a timeless sense of awe and wonder.
Now it's your turn to introduce your child to the marvels above our heads. And your backyard is an ideal place to start a learning journey that can last a lifetime. Sometimes getting started is the hardest part. To help, we've outlined a few sample talking points and simple activities for you and your child.
With young children, it's usually best to begin with the basics. Grab some blankets or lawn chairs. As you lie under the stars, try these conversation starters:
- Look for landmarks in the sky. Where's the moon? Can you see the face of the man in the moon? Why does the moon change shape?
- Star light, star bright, is the first star you see tonight a star or a planet? What's the difference? (A star has it's own light like a flashlight. A planet works like a mirror and reflects the light of the nearest star, our sun.)
- Bring the night sky indoors. Read nursery rhymes, poems, and other stories that talk about the stars and the moon. By the way, why did the cow jump over the moon?
Elementary and Middle School
With school-age children, explore the constellations and the stars. Here are a few talking points to get things started:
- Constellations: Which ones can you identify? Each constellation has its own name, story, and legend: What are they? When are different constellations visible? Where do they rise in the sky? Are the constellations the same or different in the winter, spring, summer, and fall?
- Which days of the week are named after objects in the sky? (All of them!) Monday is the moon's day, Tuesday is named for Mars, Wednesday for Mercury, Thursday for Jupiter, Friday for Venus, Saturday for Saturn, and Sunday for the sun.
- Stars: Where is the brightest star? Is it the closest or farthest one? Is it a planet or a star?
Grab a pair of binoculars and your teenager, then head outdoors! With teens, the sky is the limit.
- Why are stars different colors? What do stars burn to make light? What are they made of? Do you know why they twinkle?
- Can you tell what time it is by the position of the stars in the sky?
- Looking at the stars is looking back in time. The light reaching your eyes may have begun it's journey millions of years ago. What's the most distant star and the farthest back in time you can see?
Next to a good pair of eyes, the Internet is the backyard stargazer's best friend. There are almost as many great websites devoted to astronomy as there are stars in the sky.
Learning activities can be as simple as noting the time and location of sunset and moon rise, and as complicated as finding the names of the brightest stars in the sky.