While you might think that stargazing activities are too advanced for your toddler, several activities for beginners can lay the foundation for a brilliant career as an astronaut. But even if a career as an astronaut isn't in your child’s future, stargazing activities do offer an enjoyable way to introduce your tot to the amazing night sky.
Stargazing from your own backyard is the perfect place to get started. Later, your child can use binoculars and telescopes, but stargazing with the naked eye allows your child to ease into the solar system. On the next moonless night, grab a blanket, a flashlight and some star maps that you can print from online astronomy websites. A red flashlight will help keep your night vision strong. Just tie a piece of red plastic wrap over your regular flashlight and secure it with a rubber band or string. Then head to the backyard.
Provide the Backdrop
Provide your child with a few facts about our galaxy. You can tell him that the sun is a star. According to NASA’s Solar System Exploration website for kids, our sun is one of more than 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy. Also, stars twinkle in the night sky but planets do not. This makes it easy to decide whether you are looking at a star or a planet. From Earth, stars look tiny because they are far away. We can’t see stars during the day because the sun’s light makes the sky too bright. When the sky gets dark, you can see the stars which were there all along. The moon is covered with craters and dust. The craters were made by big space rocks that crashed into the moon.
Is that an Elephant in Heaven?
Tell your child that the night sky might look confusing at first. That’s why some ancient people made up names and stories based on what they saw. Some of those shapes eventually were called constellations and people used those shapes to make their way around the night sky. Using the star maps and your red flashlight, you can find and then point out to your child a constellation visible in the night sky such as the Big Dipper or Big Bear. While your child might be too young to make the connection -- hey, some adults can’t even do this -- you can then invite your child to describe what she sees in the night sky.
Wild and Wacky Stories
The official website of the American Association of Amateur Astronomers details the 88 astronomical constellations. The basic story lines of some of the Greek legends can be shared with your toddler. Then, invite your child to make up his own stories about what he sees. Stargazing activities can be carried into the next day or weeks, when your child can be encouraged to draw pictures and make storybooks about the night sky. These beginner stargazing activities will help to spark your child’s imagination and prepare him for the unending wonders in the heavens.