Children possess a natural curiosity about life. They are often full of questions about how and why the world works in certain ways. As adults, we become so accustomed to things like sunsets, thunderstorms or seeing the Moon that we forget those feelings of wonder and awe. Parents and grandparents have a great opportunity to harness their kids' or grandkids' curiosities and turn them into great learning experiences. When it comes to teaching astronomy for kids, let them take the lead. Listen carefully to their questions and take it from there. You'll be amazed at how much fun both of you can have exploring this rewarding and educational hobby.
Establish Basic Understandings
Children in preschool or kindergarten will benefit from informal discussions about how the night sky is different compared to the day sky. This will help encourage their interest in astronomy. Ask your child questions about what they see in the sky during the day as opposed to night. As a fun and educational activity, fold a piece of paper in half and ask your child to draw the day sky on one side and the night sky on the other side. Alternatively, you might use a black sheet of construction paper for the night sky and a blue piece for the day sky to help get the intended lesson across more easily. Some things to include in the discussion might be the Sun, clouds, stars, the phases of the Moon or planets. Let your child's curiosities determine which direction to go. Questions such as -- do we see the Sun at night -- are excellent ways to encourage a child's imagination and curiosity, while helping them learn facts about astronomy. Consider making a list or a chart of your child's questions and answers so he or she will have a visual representation of what he or she has learned. Other simple and fascinating concepts for youngsters include the changing phases of the Moon, the path the Sun takes across the sky, space travel and exploration, and more.
As kids get a little older and start to understand the basics of the night sky, they will undoubtedly want to dig deeper and explore more. Introduce your kids to the constellations by stargazing on clear nights and picking out some of the more common constellations. Bring a sketchbook and pencils or crayons along so kids can sketch the constellations and later compare them to a real picture. You could even use black construction paper and foil star stickers to create constellations, drawing the lines between stars with a white crayon. Get a book on constellations to teach your kids about the unique stories behind each star formation. Use the Internet together with your child to research particular astronomy topics. Older kids might keep a star journal where they sketch the night sky from the same location each night to see how the sky changes from night to night.
Explore the Solar System
One of the most exciting concepts in astronomy for kids is the idea that the Solar System includes other planets. Talk about the names, characteristics and facts such as the distance from the Sun of each planet with your child or grandchild. As you learn together about what the climate of each planet is like, role play with the children by asking them to pretend to live on that planet. What would they wear? What would they eat? What would their house look like based on the natural resources available? Comparing and contrasting ideas help children form deeper understandings. Ask your kids to compare each planet to Earth and discuss the similarities or differences. Creating a scale model of the solar system is a hands-on activity that will help children see the relative sizes of all the planets compared to Earth and the Sun. You can use balls and objects around the house or purchase Styrofoam craft balls in various sizes.
Above all, it is important to remember to have fun as you delve into astronomy for kids. Keep learning interactive and child-driven. If your son or daughter is fascinated by rockets and astronauts, spend the time learning all about it with your child. Use creative craft projects, role-playing, writing and reading to learn and reinforce concepts. You'll be thrilled when your child cannot wait for the Sun to go down so you can enjoy another night of stargazing fun together.