Stargazing

Ages 4-6

Curator Tibby W.

Curator Tibby W.

Why I Created This Guide

When my daughter was two and a half and we were outside one night, she looked up at the sky and said “I see the moon and the moon sees me.” We had been saying this little nursery rhyme to her for awhile and while she gazed up at the moon I took a moment to look up too and was surprised by everything I saw. It can seem difficult if you live in a city to stargaze, but even with a shopping center not far from our house I have been amazed with how much is still visible. Plus with fewer stars in the sky it’s a lot easier to pick out constellations. If you can get outside the city for an evening, there’s even more out there to see. Ever since that night we’ve been pointing out individual stars, constellations, planets, and satellites. We have also talked about the phases of the moon and how the the constellations we can see change with the seasons. Star gazing is such an incredible and easy way to share science and wonder with young children. Who isn’t impressed by the bright glimmer of Venus as it appears shortly after sunset or the eerie beauty of a moon peering out from behind a cloud? Taking a look at the night sky with my daughter has brought back the wonder I felt as a child peering out at the vastness of our universe.


Things to Look For In the Night Sky:

  • Polaris (the North Star)

  • Orion

  • The Big Dipper

  • Ursa Major

  • Venus

  • Mars

  • Jupiter

  • The Moon

  • Satellites (these look like stars in that they are tiny, but move quickly across the sky like a plane does)

  • The Milky Way (if you’re out where there is less light pollution)


Books

A Child’s Introduction to the Night Sky written by Michael Driscoll, illustrated by Meredith Hamilton 

This is a great introduction to astronomy for young children. There is information about basic stargazing, but the book also includes information about astronomers, space exploration, and of course some of the mythology about the stars and planets and their namesakes. There is also a star wheel included with the book that when scrolled to the correct month will show you a few of the constellations visible at that time. There is also a chart that will help you spot the various planets as they traverse the night sky.

 

Eye Wonder: Space written and edited by Simon Holland 

Another excellent resource about what’s in the night sky. Eye Wonder books are the younger versions of the popular Eye Witness series from DK, and like their older counterparts, they feature excellent photographs, tons of information and an engaging format. Lots of little boxes and captions entice kids to read about how we look into space, how we’ve travelled there and about the various planets in our solar system. Larger print and bigger pictures make this a good choice for young space enthusiasts.

 

One Small Square: The Night Sky written by Donald Silver, illustrated by Patricia Wynne

While this series of books is good for older children, with a parent’s help there is a lot younger children can gain from this one. The Night Sky covers all sort of information including brief mythology from many different cultures to constellations, comets, and how stars are born. It does this by focusing on one small square, right around the constellation Orion and breaks the sky into layers, each with something new to learn about. The book encourages you to get outside and actually look at this piece of sky and has several simple experiments you can try to explore the concepts and ideas.

 

Look Up!: Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer written by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Raul Colon

An inspiring story about a female astronomer. As a girl Henrietta would look up in amazement at the night sky. She found it so fascinating that, as a woman, she pursued a career in astronomy, despite the fact that the field was dominated by men and she worked in a stuffy room on calculations, not observing the sky. Henrietta remained curious and when making an observation about blinking stars she developed a theory that used the blinking to determine how far away a star was from Earth.

 

The Constellation Orion: The Story of the Hunter written by Arnold Ringstad, illustrated by JT Morrow 

This book uses Orion as a jumping off point to talk about stars and stargazing. It features information about what a star is and how far away they are from Earth. There is also a chapter on Orion in mythology and another chapter tells the Greek story of Orion. Sections are short and simplified making this a good book to share with younger children that may not yet have a lot of background knowledge. There is also a picture of the constellation with the stars labelled and a brief section that tells you how and when to locate him in the sky in either the Northern or Southern hemisphere. This is one book in a series that explores a number of the familiar constellations.

 

Once Upon a Starry Night: A Book of Constellations written by Jacqueline Mitton, illustrated by Christina Balit 

Another picture book that presents the myths and legends surrounding the constellations and the heros and animals they depict. Shiny silver stars stud lush illustrations of the characters. Each page reveals a new constellation and the stories themselves are short making them ideal for young audiences.The end papers of the book show the northern and southern skies with the constellations featured in the book highlighted in red.

 

Coyote Places the Stars written retold and illustrated by Harriet Peck Taylor

Based on a Wasco legend, Coyote Places the Stars is the story of how coyote climbed up to the mountain and used his bow and arrows to place the stars into constellations. Not only is the book a good step away from focusing solely on the Greek and Roman myths behind the constellations, it’s great for those kids who love to ask “why”. The legend explains both how the stars were put into pictures and why the coyote howls at night. The story also contains a friendship theme, as coyote draws pictures of and for all his animal friends and then presents his handiwork as a gift to them.

 

The Moon Book by Gail Gibbons

An great introduction to the moon for younger astronomers. There is plenty of information here about what the moon is, how it orbits the Earth, and some of the mythology surrounding it. However, Gibbons is good about not overwhelming the reader and using more simple, straight-forward language to explain complex scientific ideas. There is a great discussion of the phases of the moon for kids who love to track it across the sky and across the months.

 

The Story of the Milky Way: A Cherokee Tale written by Joseph Bruchac and Gayle Ross, illustrated by Virginia Stroud 

Master storyteller Joseph Bruchac shares the Cherokee legend of how the Milky Way was created. Long ago the people relied on corn to sustain them. When an old couple’s corn supply is raided one night their grandson offers to watch for the thief. He discovers that a ghostly dog is visiting the cornmeal bin and he seeks help from the village wise woman to drive it off. When the people gather with their drums and rattles the next night they make a great noise to frighten the dog who runs off with a mouthful of cornmeal. As he runs, jumping into the sky, he leaves a trail crumbs that become stars behind him.

 

Aurora: A Tale of the Northern Lights written and illustrated by Mindy Dwyer 

Aurora, named for the light of dawn, lives in a land where the sun never sets. She has heard stories from her grandmother about what darkness is like, but she doesn’t understand how it can be comforting. One day she follows a caribou out onto the tundra and decides to follow it to find the darkness. As she goes, Aurora collects the different colors of light from her land and brings them with her. When she arrives at a place where darkness falls she understands what her grandmother was talking about and releases the light she has carried in her pocket creating the Aurora Borealis.

  • Note: For an art project linked with this book see the watercolor resist in the activities section below. To see video of the real Northern Lights see the videos in the media section below.

 

Rise the Moon written by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Raul Colon 

A wonderful bedtime story for moon lovers. As the moon watches over the Earth, the reader follows along seeing different people and their activities during the night. From a dancer to a baker to a sailor and a new mother the moon sees many people celebrating in its light. Spinelli’s descriptions are wonderfully poetic and Colon’s illustrations are absolutely beautiful, linking each person and animal that basks in the light of the moon.


Media

NOVALAPSE- Night Sky

A timelapse video of the night sky. Timelapse videos are made by taking lots of still photographs over a long period of time, then running them as if they were a video. It shows the night sky at various different places in the US including Glacier Point and Yosemite. This video is particularly nice because they have labeled a few stars, planets, constellations, and other features. While the video is fun to watch, it’s a great alternative if you cannot get out of the city for some stargazing.

  • Be Sure to Notice: Several of the shots look particularly bright despite being able to see stars. This light is from the moon, which can be surprisingly bright. You can also see the Milky Way, the cloudy strip across several of the shots of the sky.

  • Talking Point: Because the video is taken over the course of several hours and then sped up you can see how the sky rotates through the night. This is a good jumping off point to talk about how the Earth is rotating both around the sun (seasons) and around its axis which is why the moon, the sun, and the stars rise and set. This is a difficult concept, but being able to see the stars moving across the sky, a phenomenon that cannot be perceived quite so vividly without the assistance of technology, can help kids visualize this.

 

Wonder of the Day #182: How Many Stars Are In the Sky?

From Wonderopolis, a brief article that explains how large our universe is by looking at the number of stars in it. Includes a video from Carl Sagan and links to various activities and other websites. One of these links goes to an interactive star chart. The number is mind boggling.

 

The Evening Sky Map

A sky map is a great tool to have when you go stargazing. It will show you what stars, planets, and constellations are visible during the time you are out. This website has sky maps downloadable for free that are made for each month during the year (they are specific to the month and year). The maps also include a lot of different objects to see including comets, other planet’s moons, star clusters, and nebulae. It also has lists that break the objects into groups of visibility with the naked eye or with binoculars.

  • Tip: While something like an app may be convenient you may find that places where there is prime stargazing may not be prime cellular service locations. Print this out to take with you if you go anywhere that might not have cellular service!

  • Tip: Sky maps are also great to have around the house for when your child is curious and the mood strikes them. That way you don’t have to hand them your phone or iPad every time they want to see what constellations are out there.

 

Sky Map Online

A basic online sky map. Allows you to set the place and time so you get an accurate sky map for where you are. There is an option to print off the map. You can also zoom in and zoom out. Created by an amateur astronomer, the map is very straightforward which is nice for younger stargazers. The website has a fun constellation identification game once you are more familiar with the constellations.

 

Why Does the Moon Change Shape?

A clear, short video that explains how the Earth, the moon and the sun are connected and how this affects how much of the moon we can see. Introduces kids to the names of the various phases of the moon and shows how much of the moon is visible. It also helps visualize where the moon is in relation to Earth and the sun during the different phases.

  • Tip: The moon is almost always visible in the city, the suburbs, and the country. Kids maybe curious about why it changes shape over the course of a month.


Northern Lights

Northern Lights November 9, 2013 and Northern Lights February 19 & 20, 2014

Videos of the Aurora Borealis paired with music. Not everyone lives at a high enough latitude to see these in person, but they are absolutely incredible. Surreal even. Seeing a video can help children experience one more fascinatingly beautiful things in the night sky.

  • Tip: The first video has a meteor go by on the right hand side around 40 seconds. Keep your eye out for that!


Apps

While stargazing is all about getting off our devices, getting outside and looking up, there are a number of excellent apps out there that will aid and enhance that experience. Looking up at a sky full of tiny points of light can be confusing, so several apps can help you find stars, constellations, and other space objects in the sky or will give you a better sense of what that tiny point of light looks like close up. And for those cloudy or cold nights, there is a fun star-themed game.

 

Star Walk HD

Overview: An augmented reality star chart. Take this outside, hold up your phone or iPad and “see” what’s in the sky. This would be especially powerful in the city where there is less visible to the naked eye as the screen shows you what is in the sky where you are looking without light pollution.

Inside Scoop: An incredible app to help locate constellations, stars, planets, satellites, and more. The app uses the accelerometer (motion sensor) in your phone or tablet to know where it is pointed. Hold the iPad up to the sky where you are gazing and it will show you what is visible, including drawings of the constellations over the star patterns. You can also use it to locate the International Space Station (ISS), satellites, the Milky Way, the moon and even the Sun. Planets and the ISS are shown on the path they follow. You can also hold the tablet so that you can “see” what would be below the horizon. Use the finder menu in the bottom left to quickly locate planets, stars, and constellations. The app also allows you to zoom in and out and change the view by swiping or dragging your finger. A great interactive star chart. The app costs $2.99.

 

 

Sky Guide: View Stars Night or Day

Overview: Another augmented reality app similar to Star Walk. By holding up your phone or tablet you can see what objects are in the sky where you are looking.  

Inside Scoop: Another excellent augmented reality star chart.The constellations have pictures over the star patterns. You can also see planets, galaxies and stars. Using the search function you can quickly zoom to different comets, deep space objects, planets, and constellations. When you touch a star or planet the app plays varying pitches based on temperature and size. The time control allows you to see where certain objects will be later in the night or go back in time to view cosmic events like comets. You can zoom in and out as well as turn the sky around using your finger and can set it to the brightness of your location blocking out harder to see objects. Tilting downward reveals what is below the horizon. The pictures over the constellations fade from view with slight movement which may make it a bit more difficult for younger stargazers. The app costs $1.99.

 

Star Chart

Overview: Again, an augmented reality star chart. This one is free.

Inside Scoop: Star Chart features most of the same features as the previous two augmented reality star charts, the biggest difference being cost. The initial app is free, but there are several in app purchases that give you access to various pieces of information displayed when you select objects from the sky search menu including the mythology of the constellations. You can also upgrade to see meteor showers, the extended solar system, comets and satellites. The find menu has rise and set times for planets that are visible. There is no music with this app.

 

NASA/JPL Images

Overview: A collection of images taken by NASA of the planets including Earth.

Inside Scoop: Lots of images of the planets in our solar system and their moons. The app aggregated the pictures from NASA. It includes lots of information about what the picture is of, where it was taken, and what spacecraft took the image. An interesting app to study close up images of the planets. The app is free.

 

Galaxy Connect the Stars

Overview: A great brain teaser app that has you trace the outlines of constellations.

Inside Scoop: A fun app that has you trace the shapes of made-up constellations. This is good fine motor practice as kids have to touch the stars and trace on the line. It is also good for developing spatial sense because the shapes must be traced following a certain path. Some lines can only be traced in one direction so the player must plan ahead to be able to trace it going the correct direction. Since the app is free is does have an ad banner at the top.

 

Planets (Q Continuum)

Overview: A good app for planet nuts, Planets helps you locate each of the planets and our moon in the night sky.  

Inside Scoop: For those kids who are really interested in the planets, this app will help you find them in the sky. See the sky at your current time in either 2D (this looks like a basic sky chart) or 3D (this looks closer to the augmented reality apps, although it doesn’t move with you). Each planet is shown large on the sky chart, as are the outlines of various constellations, which you can use to help orient yourself in the sky. Clicking on the planet in the chart reveals the rise and set times and the azimuth and altitude. The app also shows a visual timeline of when each of the planets is visible during the current day. There is also a globe section which will show you a globe view of each planet that spins to show all sides. Touching the globe allows you to rotate it around to see the poles and view the planet from different angles. The app is free.


Activities

Family Activity: Backyard Stargazing

Why This Activity

This can be as involved or simple as you want it to be, but it’s always nice to take some time to go outside as a family, away from the distractions of dirty dishes, TV, and homework. This is also the perfect time to show how much your child has learned about the night sky and to use some of the resources listed above.

What You’ll Need

  • star chart (optional, but recommended)

  • lawn chairs (optional)

  • sleeping bags or blankets (optional)

  • iPad (optional, to use one of the star chart apps)

  • binoculars (optional, a more accessible alternative to a telescope)

  • telescope (optional)

  • tent & sleeping bags (optional)

What To Do

  • As it’s beginning to get dark head outside and look up. What do you see? Listen to what your child points out and direct them to look at things you’ve spotted too. Ask them what they think they are seeing and check the star chart to identify stars, constellations, and other objects.

  • While this can be a quick five-minute activity, the longer you stay out the more you will see. It’s fun to watch how many more stars come out as the night falls. If you are out for a long while you may even notice the moon and stars moving through the sky.

  • You can put out lawn chairs to sit in or lay out on sleeping bags in the middle of an open space.

  • If you are lucky enough to have a telescope you can look more closely at the objects in the sky, but this isn’t necessary. Alternatively you can use binoculars to look more closely at objects.

  • Maybe make a night of it in the late spring or summer and set up a tent in the backyard and camp out overnight. You can look at the stars at dusk, at bedtime, and early in the morning if you wake before sunrise.

  • You could also take an evening to drive out of town, away from all the light pollution. You will be amazed at all the stars you can see and you may even be able to spot the Milky Way.

 

Flashlight Constellations

Source: Handmade Charlotte

Source: Handmade Charlotte

Why This Activity

This is a fun activity you could do before bedtime. It’s also fun on dreary rainy days. While having fun playing with the constellations on your wall or ceiling, kids will be learning to identify them, which might make finding them in the sky easier. Once you’ve gone through the cards a few times naming the constellations for them, try asking them to look at it and see if they can recall the name. You could also link this to storytelling at night by showing a constellation and retelling the story about it while you look. Creating the constellation cards is also great fine motor practice with tracing, cutting and poking. Of course use your judgement as a parent to know what your child is capable of and help them with the tricky parts.

Variation 1

What You’ll Need

  • flashlight

  • cardstock (black works well, but really any will work fine) OR paper cups that will fit over the end of your flashlight

  • scissors

  • pencil

  • pictures of constellations

  • tapestry needle or an awl or pick of some sort (for you to make the holes)

  • cork trivet and a push pin (for your child to make the holes)

What To Do

  • Trace the end of your flashlight onto the cardstock several times. Cut them out. Test one to be sure it will fit into the end of your flashlight. It should fit into the hood and over the light. If you traced around the outside edge of the flashlight you may have to trim it down a little.

  • If you are using the paper cup, but sure you know how the flashlight fits inside so when you make the constellation the light will be behind it.

  • Using the pictures of the constellations use the pencil to mark the stars in the constellation onto the cardstock circles. If you are using the paper cup, draw it onto the end of the cup.

  • Poke a hole for each star in the constellation using the needle or awl. If you want your child to be able to make the holes, place a cork trivet on the table and give them a push pin (some office supply stores sell giant ones that are easy for smaller hands to manipulate) and have them push that into the paper.

  • Turn the lights off, place a constellation over the flashlight end and turn it on. Aim at a blank wall or the ceiling. You have mini planetarium in your home!

Adapted from: DIY Constellation Flashlight on Handmade Charlotte


Variation 2 (slightly easier version)

What You’ll Need

  • flashlight

  • black cardstock OR regular index cards

  • scissors

  • pencil

  • pictures of constellations

  • tapestry needle or an awl or pick of some sort (for you to make the holes)

  • cork trivet and a push pin (for your child to make the holes)

What To Do

  • Cut the cardstock into 3x5 squares if you are using cardstock.

  • Using the pictures of the constellations use the pencil to mark the stars in the constellation onto the cards. You could write the name of the constellation on the corner to help you remember.

  • Poke a hole for each star in the constellation using the needle or awl. If you want your child to be able to make the holes, place a cork trivet on the table and give them a push pin (some office supply stores sell giant ones that are easy for smaller hands to manipulate) and have them push that into the paper.

  • Turn the lights off and shine the flashlight through the back of the constellation card. Aim at a blank wall or the ceiling. You may have to adjust the distance you hold the card from the end of the flashlight to get a clear picture on the wall. You have mini planetarium in your home!



Art Connection: Night Sky Watercolor Resist (with crayons, with stickers, sprinkle with salt to match Aurora)

Why This Activity

Art is a great way to get kids to connect with a subject and to allow them to use different learning approaches to explore the topic and express what they have learned. In addition to talking about space and stars during this activity, kids are learning another science lesson: wax resists water.

Variation 1: Crayons

What You’ll Need

  • large paper (watercolor paper if possible, otherwise heavy drawing paper will work fine)

  • black, purple, and blue watercolors

  • crayons

  • paint brushes (wide or large paint brushes will make quick work, but smaller ones will allow for more stripes of color)

  • cup of water to rinse brushes

  • paper towels (optional)

  • pictures of constellations and other objects in the night sky (optional, the DK book Space, from above, would work well)

  • salt (large grain works best, but any type will work; optional)

What To Do

  • Lay out the paper on a flat surface. Since watercolors run and drip easily easels don’t make the best work surface. You may want to put out a splat mat and few extra sheets of paper on the table (or even cover it in newspaper) as everything could get very wet.

  • Encourage your child to use the crayons to draw constellations, planets or the moon (or all of those!) on their paper. This is where those pictures of the night sky could come in handy.

  • When they are done creating their picture, paint over the entire paper with night-sky colored watercolors. They may want to do all black or they may mix purples and blues in, too.

  • To create the effect like the one seen in the illustrations of Aurora: A Tale of the Northern Lights, sprinkle the salt on the watercolor while it is still wet. The water will partially dissolve the salt and as it dries it will leave a star-like pattern.

  • When the entire paper is covered in watercolor (and probably saturated) you can either leave it in place to dry or remove it to another spot.  

  • If there are large beads of water on the crayon you may wish to use the paper towels to blot them up. They will dry, but can leave a chalky spot on the crayon drawing.


Variation 2: Stickers

What You’ll Need

  • large paper (watercolor paper if possible, otherwise heavy drawing paper will work fine)

  • black, purple, and blue watercolors

  • star-shaped foil stickers

  • crayons (optional)

  • paint brushes (wide or large paint brushes will make quick work, but smaller ones will allow for more stripes of color)

  • cup of water to rinse brushes

  • paper towels (optional)

  • pictures of constellations and other objects in the night sky (optional, the DK book Space, from above, would work well)

  • salt (large grain works best, but any type will work; optional)

What To Do

  • Lay out the paper on a flat surface. Since watercolors run and drip easily easels don’t make the best work surface. You may want to put out a splat mat and few extra sheets of paper on the table (or even cover it in newspaper) as everything could get very wet.

  • Encourage your child to place the stickers in constellation patterns. They could also use crayons to draw planets or the moon on their paper. This is where those pictures of the night sky could come in handy.

  • When they are done creating their picture, paint over the entire paper with night-sky colored watercolors. They may want to do all black or they may mix purples and blues in, too.

  • To create the effect like the one seen in the illustrations of Aurora: A Tale of the Northern Lights, sprinkle the salt on the watercolor while it is still wet. The water will dissolve the salt and as it dries it will leave an star-like pattern.

  • When the entire paper is covered in watercolor (and probably saturated) you can either leave it in place to dry or remove it to another spot.  

  • If you would like you can peel the stickers off after the paper is dry. Some stickers work better for this. The foil stickers have a good backing that will keep the watercolor from seeping under, so when they are peeled away it will leave a star-shaped white space.


Get the Wiggles Out: The Sun and The Moon

Why This Activity

This is an incredibly simple and short activity you can do to get the wiggles out. Try it out when you need a stretch, on a rainy day when you’re stuck inside, or even on rest stops during a long car trip. It won’t take long, but kids really get a kick out of it.

What To Do

  • While saying “the sun” stretch out as far as you can. Open your mouth, eyes, and hands as much as you can. Say the words as loud as you can (or as loud as you can stand). Spread your arms out and your legs. Stand on tip toes to make yourself as tall as possible.

  • Then say “the moon” and make yourself as small and quiet as possible. Scrunch into a ball, close your eyes, whisper the words, pinch your finger together.

  • Go back and forth between the sun and the moon a few times. Try saying them as long as you can before switching or going quickly between them to see how long it takes to transition.


Nursery Rhymes About Stars For Singing and Reciting

The Man in the Moon

The man in the moon  
Looked out of the moon,  
Looked out of the moon and said,  
It's time, I think, for all good children  
To think about going to bed.

 

Hey Diddle Diddle

Hey diddle diddle,  
The cat and the fiddle,  
The cow jumped over the moon.  
The little dog laughed  
To see such sport,  
And the dish ran away  
With the spoon.

 

Star Light Star Bright

(To be said upon spotting the first star to appear in the evening. Be sure to make a silent wish at the end.)

Star light, Star bright  
First star I see tonight  
I wish I may, I wish I might  
Have the wish I wish tonight.  

  

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

Twinkle twinkle Little star  
How I wonder what you are.  
Up above the world so high,  
Like a diamond in the sky.  
Twinkle twinkle Little star  
How I wonder what you are.

About Tibby W.Tibby, a curator from the Bay Area, was born to love books.  Seriously.  Her parents named her after a nickname from a children’s book!  Anyone remember the Betsy, Tacy, and Tib books? There you have it.  Even stranger, Tibby’s best friend from high school is the granddaughter of the illustrator of the series.  Now, that is someone almost born with a book in her hand!  Tibby is a former teacher and children’s librarian, currently staying home to spend time with her little one. She is a dynamic member of our curator community, and we’re thrilled to have her!

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