We have to explain so many things to our children. But, sometimes it’s way over our heads. Like explaining constellations for kids, the stars are even more mysterious, beautiful, and full of questions than their parents. We have gathered everything you need to know to make your explanation interesting.
Children are naturally curious about their world. Stargazing is an amazing and accessible way to foster this curiosity. Being able to find and identify the constellations initiates children into an age-old community of scientists and seekers. These nine tips on exploring the constellations for kids don’t require investing in expensive equipment or a Ph.D. in astronomy.
9 Tips on Explaining Constellations for Kids
1. The Night Sky
Children feel an undeniable excitement when they get to be outside after dark. Pick any clear night, preferably when the moon is far from full, and simply look up! You will see more stars where there is less local light pollution, but even a backyard outing can be rewarding. Ask your child what they see. Are all the stars the same color? Do they all have the same brightness? Are there areas of the sky that have more stars than other areas?
2. Ursa Major
Ursa Major, which means the “Greater Bear” in Latin, is a great constellation to start with. It is easy to find, and it is visible all year round in the Northern hemisphere. One of the most recognizable groups of stars in the Northern sky, the Big Dipper (also known as the Plough), is part of this constellation. Ursa Major is the third largest constellation of the 88 recognized constellations. Including the Big Dipper’s seven bright stars, the Great Bear has 19 stars.
3. Myths and Legends
Ursa Major, and the sister constellation Ursa Minor, are subjects of great myths involving jealous gods, love, and revenge. In fact, many constellations have myths associated with them. These timeless stories are another fascinating in-road to the study of the night sky. Jacqueline Mitton’s beautiful children’s book Once Upon a Starry Night: A Book of Constellations contains some of these myths. You can find some online collections of constellation myths here and here.
There is a myriad of children’s books that illuminate the constellations for kids. Check a few out at your local library and think about investing in personal copies of your child’s favorites. Some of the standout titles include Star Gazers by Gail Gibbons, Zoo in the Sky by Jacqueline Mitton, Find the Constellations by H. A. Rey, and The Kids Book of the Night Sky by Anna Love and Jane Drake. All of these books are exceptionally illustrated and present accurate scientific information in a kid-friendly manner.
5. Star Maps and Constellation Cards
Standard star maps can seem overly complex to the novice stargazer. Fortunately, there are simplified versions of star maps designed for children. The folks at liebacklookup.com have created an exceptional series of seasonal sky maps for children. They also have constellation card printables. Karyn at teachbesideme.com has also put together some excellent printable constellation cards. Kidscosmos.org provides kid’s star maps for each month of the year.
Hands-on projects are not only fun but also serve to help cement the knowledge your child is learning. With black construction paper and a silver or white pen, or chalk, you can recreate mini versions of the constellations as you learn about them. If you want to get a little fancier, you can use star stickers. To make a tasty three-dimensional model of the constellations for kids, connect mini marshmallows with toothpicks or wooden shish kabob skewers.
7. Flashlight Projection
You can create a model of a constellation that can be projected onto walls or ceilings. You will need a flashlight, cupcake liners, a glue stick, a large sewing needle, chalk, a rubber band and circles of black construction paper or cardstock. To make the projector, cut the construction paper or cardstock in circles that are the same size as the bottom of the cupcake liner. Draw the constellation on the circle and glue the circle onto the bottom of the cupcake liner. Poke the stars out (going through both the paper and the cupcake liner) using the sewing needle. Place the cupcake liner upside down over a flashlight with a similarly sized lens and wrap the rubber band around the rim of the flashlight to secure it.
8. Glow in the Dark Constellations
If you want more permanent indoor models of the constellations, you can create them with self-sticking, glow in the dark stars. There are several kits that you can buy that include constellation maps and templates. You can also go freehand and create your constellations for kids based on actual observations you and your child have made. There are also excellent glow in the dark posters that not only reproduce the constellations but label them as well.
9. Star Gazing Apps
Star gazing apps are one of those technological wonders that make owing a smartphone or tablet worthwhile. There are more than a few out there, but good ones to start with are Skyview and Sky Map. Both apps are available for Android or iPhone platforms. These programs allow you to identify constellations, planets, stars or other objects by simply aiming your device at the night sky. Both apps are free.
Introducing children to the wonders of science through the study of constellations for kids will have benefits well beyond the actual knowledge learned. Even if stargazing turns out to be a fad, children become aware that the world has layers of meaning that reflect centuries of study and discovery. They will also begin to understand that they are part of this history. Concentrated study of the constellations for kids goes a long way in our efforts to help our children develop that sense of curiosity that has served science and the arts so well and could help them become curious adults.
Have you tried one of these tips? We would love to know how it went.
Images from depositphotos.com.