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Starry, starry night

The night sky offers hours of entertainment for aspiring astronomers.

By Valle Dwight

Now that the days are getting shorter, are you looking for more age-appropriate evening entertainment for your kid than tuning in to Dancing With the Stars? What about the family-friendly activity Dazzled by the Stars? Introduce your third-, fourth-, or fifth-grader to the world of astronomy by indulging in some backyard camping and checking out heavenly bodies that will inspire him to explore the universe.

The project: Learn a constellation (or two)

Get ready: Become a celestial detective

  • Check out a library book with a map of the night sky, or go online and search for “sky map.”
  • With your child, look up a few constellations on the map and point out any nearby landmarks (the North Star is easy to spot, and it will help locate the Big Dipper, for instance).

Make it happen: Have an astronomical experience

On a clear night with no moon, plan a trip to the backyard — or find a relatively dark spot away from artificial lights. Get cozy on the ground (don’t forget to bring a blanket and a thermos of hot cocoa), and start scanning the sky.

  • Once your eyes have adjusted to the dark, see if your child can find the Big Dipper, which is one small part of the constellation Ursa Major.
  • Next, see if you can pick out Cassiopeia — another constellation that stands out once you are familiar with it (hint:it’s in the shape of a W).
  • Make sure you reinforce these finds for your child — whenever you go out at night, ask him to find them for you. Once he has those down pat, add a few more constellations or planets to his repertoire. Have him look up the stories behind the constellations, and plan a trip to a planetarium.

Valle Dwight is a reporter, writer, and mother of two school-aged boys. She has written for many magazines, including FamilyFun, Wondertime, and Working Mother.

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