Before video games, television and other modern entertainment, people used the night sky as a backdrop for storytelling. Imagination gave birth to the names of constellations. You can see stars best on a clear night, away from city lights. Some stars are visible during the day.
The night sky can be enchanting just to gaze on and talk about. This can be a springboard to several learning experiences, depending on the ages and interests of your children.
What is a star?
The sun is, of course, the most visible star from earth. A star is a huge ball of gases that gradually changes color and size. This process takes place over billions of years.
With young children
If your children are very young, introduce them to the night sky by using a book like Good Night Moon. Then take them outside with a flashlight and a blanket and pillow. Lie on the blanket and gaze up at the night sky together.
Ask what they see. Let them try to make their own pictures out of the stars they see and tell a story.
On another night, take a piece of black construction paper and let them draw their own pictures of night sky with white chalk. Spray the picture with hair spray and put it in a frame to hang on the play room or family room wall.
Go outside on different nights and watch for changes in how the moon looks. Talk about why the moon looks different on different nights. At this age, the answer is not so important as the question. Let children speculate and explore. Later on, you can get a children’s book from the library to explore answers.
With older children
First go outside and observe the night sky just as you do with younger children. But talk about how the constellations got their names. Let them pick out any constellations they know. Make up names and stories for other constellations.
Use a flashlight and paper and pencil to chart some stars.
Get a book about stars from the library and explore facts about stars and constellations.
Watch the moon through its phases and make a chart about them.
Learn why stars twinkle. When starlight travels through the earth’s atmosphere, air movement breaks up the light and makes the stars appear to twinkle. You can do an experiment to show how this works. You’ll need aluminum foil, a medium size box, a flashlight, a glass bowl, and scissors.
Fill the bowl 2/3 of the way with water. Set it on a table.
Cut a piece of cardboard large enough to set underneath the bowl and cover the area. Cut small aluminum stars out and glue them to the cardboard. Place the cardboard with stars facing up, under the bowl of water. Turn off the lights. Shine the flashlight into the bowl and tap the side of the bowl to make the water move. The stars will twinkle.
For information about constellations, visit the constellation page at http://www.dibonsmith.com/index.htm. Each constellation is charted and explained.
Visit a planetarium on a day when a subject the children want to know more about is covered.
Use an inexpensive telescope to explore the night sky.
Whatever method you choose, helping your children explore the night sky can be a magical activity they will never forget.
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