Astronomy Activities

by Dennis Randall

These outdoor astronomy activities will help kids of all ages learn about the stars and planets.

Since the first child looked up and pondered the heavens, kids acrossthe ages have gazed at the moon and stars with a timeless sense of aweand wonder.

Now it's your turn to introduce your child to the marvels above ourheads. 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 activitiesfor you and your child.

Preschool
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 ofthe man in the moon? Why does the moon change shape?
  • Star light, star bright, is the first star you see tonight a star or aplanet? 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 storiesthat talk about the stars and the moon. By the way, why did the cow jumpover 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 itsown name, story, and legend: What are they? When are different constellationsvisible? Where do they rise in the sky? Are the constellations the sameor 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, Wednesdayfor 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?

High School
Grab a pair of binoculars and your teenager, then head outdoors! Withteens, the sky is the limit.

  • Why are stars different colors? What do stars burn to make light? Whatare 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 eyesmay have begun it's journey millions of years ago. What's the most distantstar and the farthest back in time you can see?

Coming Indoors
Next to a good pair of eyes, the Internet is the backyard stargazer's best friend. There are almost as many great websites devoted toastronomy as there are stars in the sky.

Learning activities can be as simple as noting the time and locationof sunset and moon rise, and as complicated as finding the names of the brightest stars inthe sky.

Have fun!

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