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Great Books & Activities for a Night Under the Stars

Do your kids love space?  Are they asking questions about the moon, stars and other celestial wonders?  In celebration of some cool astronomy events this year, we put together a list of books and activities for an educational and enjoyable evening under the stars!

Mark Your Calendar

There are some unique astronomy events taking place this year – some are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity:

  • May 5th – Supermoon (the moon will be brighter than normal).
  • May 20th – Eclipse of the Sun (Do NOT look directly at the sun during an eclipse and do NOT use binoculars or telescopes )
  • June 5th & 6th – Venus will pass between the Earth and Sun (it will look like a          small black circle moving across the Sun) – the next time this happens will be in 2117!  Again, special glasses should be used any time you look at the Sun!

Explore Space

You may not be able to go up in a rocket, but there are some fun ways to help your kids explore space while their feet are still firmly planted on Earth:

Visit an Observatory or Planetarium

One of the best ways to explore the stars is a trip to a local observatory or planetarium.  Many observatories have public viewing sessions offered during the spring, summer and fall.  Kids will get a great introduction to the stars and planets by viewing them through high-powered telescopes. 

To find an observatory near you, visit the interactive map at Go Astronomy.

Planetariums are also very enjoyable, and offer indoor ‘space shows’.  Check the show schedule as there may be different ones to see.  For example, our planetarium in Kansas City offers a show for younger children called “Big Bird’s Adventures” in the mornings, while afternoon and evening shows focus on black holes and dark matter, which are more geared for teens and adults.

Go Astronomy also has a map to help you locate your closest planetarium.

Grab a Star Chart & Head Outdoors

All you need is a blanket, map and an area away from the city’s lights to have your own private star show!  If you have your own telescope (or even a pair of binoculars), that’s a plus.

Visit Sky Map Online to get a star map of the constellations that are visible in your area.  Simply click on the name of the city, reset it to the closest city to your home and a star map will be generated.  The map is also printable so you can take it with you if you need to drive away from the lights of the city to get a better view of the stars.

If you’re interested in an app, try SkyView for iPhone, iPod or iPad or Star Chart for Android.

For more information on using star maps and star wheels, see this video from Sky & Telescope.

Make Your Own Show

Kids can create their own constellations by poking holes in the shape of a constellation in the bottom of a paper cup.  First, choose a constellation, such as the Big Dipper.  You can use some of the examples listed at University of Potsdam’s Stars and Constellations page for a template. 

Draw the constellation on the bottom of the paper cup, and use a sharpened pencil to poke holes for each of the stars in the constellation.  Then, put a flashlight inside the cup, turn it on and shine it on a wall in a dark room.  Ta da!  your own constellation!

PBS Kids also has a very creative online activity that allows kids to create their own constellations.

Books on Stars & Space

There are so many books on the moon, stars and planets — here are a few recommendations:

For Younger Kids

“Papa, please get the moon for me” by Eric Carle is not only a beautiful book but also a young child’s introduction to the phases of the moon.  The pages fold out and kids learn that the moon has a cycle during which it appears to change in the sky.

“Find the Constellations” by R.A. Rey has star charts, a guide to the constellations and details about how the night sky changes with the seasons. 

“The Sky is Full of Stars” by Franklyn Mansfield Branley is a fun hands-on science book that tells kids about constellations, star color, brightness and how to make your own mini planetarium.

“There’s No Place Like Space” by Tish Rabe is one of the Cat in the Hat Learning Series books.  Kids will enjoy exploring space through rhyming text with Thing 1 and Thing 2 while they also learn about the planets.

Fun Fiction Books with Space Themes (Older Kids)

Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House series has Jack & Annie exploring space in “Midnight on the Moon”, along with it’s non-fiction companion “Space”.  Read the fictional story first and then follow-up with more facts about the moon and space!

“Every Soul a Star” by Wendy Mass tells the story of four kids who find themselves at the same campground awaiting a rare solar eclipse.  A very entertaining read for kids ages 10 – 14.

“A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeline L’Engle is a classic kid’s book about space and time travel!  Meg and her brother Charles are put to tests as they travel the planets in search of their father. 

Enjoy your time under the stars!