Interested in Astronomy — Giving your children an interest in astronomy will provide a lifetime of pleasure and satisfaction, a sense of wonder at the universe, a potentially lifelong hobby, as well as a possible professional career for them in later years!
Before you give them binoculars or buy them a telescope or a hand held planetarium, get your kids outside on a clear night to look at the stars in the way humans have always done – with their eyes. Naked eye astronomy is the way to begin learning about the heavens.
That’s because, apart from the moon, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and a few other night sky objects like the Pleiades, looking at something through binoculars or a telescope can be difficult and disappointing. The star which is a tiny point of light in the sky will remain a tiny point of light when magnified. Even holding binoculars steady enough for viewing is likely to be challenging for smaller children anyway.
It’s much better to get children inspired about the night sky by having them learning about and watching the phases of the moon, or the shapes of the brighter constellations, without using instruments.
Of course, if you are hazy about things like the names of the constellations yourself you will be setting out on a voyage of discovery with your kids as well! There are many great software programs available which will display the currently visible night sky on your computer, or you can check the constellations in the charts in any good astronomy guidebook. Then you can pass on your knowledge when stargazing.
Another recommendation before venturing out in the dark – dress your kids warmly, make them wear hats, and don’t try to do too much on the first night. Whether you stargaze in your yard, in the local park, or have to drive outside the city to get away from the artificial light and streetlights and get a clear view of the stars, don’t let your kids get too cold. I know from bitter experience that this will make it harder to get them out the next time.
You can also be very clever about your first night sky adventure by choosing to go out when there are likely to be meteor showers. Consult a guidebook or an online web site to find out when and from which area of the sky the next meteor shower will come, and get your kids out to see it. This is exciting for kids as well as adults, and you can compete to see who can count the most.
If you live in higher latitudes, auroras (the northern or southern lights) are another spectacular night sky event: I have even roused my children from their beds to see a good one, and I’m sure they will thank me for it when they are older!
Spotting planets is another fine game, and the kids will soon be adept at pointing out Venus or Jupiter at dusk, given a clear sky.
As always with education, the secret is with reinforcement – if you mention the blue color of Rigel or the red color of Betelgeuse one night, ask the kids if they can remember the name of the red or blue stars in Orion the next time you go out.
If you have been working on why the moon has phases, get them to experiment with a tennis ball and a flashlight. One method: place a flashlight (representing the sun) on a chair pointing at the child who then turns while they hold the tennis ball at arm’s length to simulate the moon circling the earth.
Ways to teach about the night sky are limited only by your imagination, and when your kids have grasped the basics, you can then think about a telescope, and mastering that. At that point, the universe will really open up for parent and child.
Many museums cater to children only. Others, even some art museums, have children exhibits. Here are some reasons to take your children to a children’s museum:
1. When you visit a children’s museum you often see classes from grade schools, scouting groups, and also special groups catering to the needs of children with handicaps. But you should take your children by yourself. Parents understand their children and they can see things in the museum that their children would have had an interest, but because there is so much to see, they missed them.
2. Children have varied interest. Their little minds gobble up everything they see, hear, and can get their hands on. Exploring topics of interest and developing new interest enriches their lives.
3. A newly discovered interest can lead direction to a child’s life. They may become so interested in a subject that they may make it an important part of their life. They may develop a life-long hobby or a vocation. For example, climbing into the giant heart model at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia may turn your son or daughter into a doctor of medicine, even a heart surgeon or cardiologist. The same museum also has an amateur radio station. I found that hobby to be a joy over the years.
4. Just spending time with children is precious and rewarding. Sometimes the kids are bored and are looking for something to do. So pile the kids into the car and take them out for the day, visiting a museum, is a great way to spend the day, eating in the cafeteria (if available) and browsing around the gift shop are fun activities too.
5. There is almost always public transportation to a museum. We took are kids to Philadelphia by train, not because it was simpler than driving the car but because it was something new and exciting to kids who have never hopped on a train or bus. And when you get to the museum, you don’t have to worry about where to park the car.
6. When you get home, you will hear your kids talking about their museum trip. They may be excited about the planetarium show, a movie in the museum theater, watching the huge pendulum in the lobby of the museum, the dinosaur exhibit, the great blue whale, the insects, birds, animals, the “you name it.” They will want to go again.
You can easily find a museum not too far from your home. There are many listings on the Internet. Contact the museum or visit its website to see what cost are involved. You might drag grandpa along to help pay the bills.
Fly Old Glory!
Children are often driven and mesmerized by the mystique wonderland of space. It is a mystery that unveils itself only during the night. Its mysteries and cosmic elements can be better understood with expert guidance. If a child has a natural interest in matters of space, then it is advisable that he/she should be encouraged to go deeper into the subject. Who knows one day he might end up by taking a trip to moon or even Jupiter!
Children have an open mind and can grasp things easily. They take in whatever is placed in front of them. This is also true in case of astronomy. It is thus important to choose the right educational resources for a child. There are many educational resources available in the market today to help a child have a better understanding of astronomy.
Astronomy software is one of the most valuable resources among others for this objective. While buying or downloading astronomy software, one must first see if that software or its version is compatible with the computer.
There are many software that are available on the Internet for free. One can easily download them, install them and immediately start looking at the sky. Most of these software have a 3-dimensional image. Thus, the images look as realistic as one sees through a telescope or a binocular. This way, learning astronomy can become interesting and capture the attention of the child.
If your child is using a telescope to spot the astronomical objects, then you should first check if the astronomy software you are going to buy online or download is compatible with the telescope. A compatible software will direct the telescope automatically to the object your child wants to see. Some astronomical software even allow you to enter your location in the software, and shows the exact image of the sky as it is seen from your location or position on earth.
This positioning of the image in the software will help you direct the telescope towards the point where you will find your desired object. Finding an object is also possible through astronomy software. You will just need to type out the search requirement.
For e.g., if you want to look at Mars, you just need to type it out in the software’s search bar and the software will automatically direct you towards the location of Mars. Thus, these easy-to-use software help children to find out what they want to know effortlessly. They can be of great help in science projects too!
Sparking your child’s interest in astronomy may be one of the best decisions you make this year. Children love to learn especially if the subject is visually exciting to them. You can find out if astronomy holds an interest for your child simply, easily and without great expense using something they already have a fondness for, (your TV).
There are only a hand full of good astronomy related DVD’s out there, In general they are all very useful in sparking that interest in astronomy. Or they may show you that your child has no interest at this time. The History Channel (Universe) and A&E (The Planets) are very good choices.
If your child responds to the videos favorably, you may try an astronomy book appropriate for your child’s reading level.
Learning about the universe and stargazing can be a very cost-effective family activity. There are group events and recreation services that offer a chance for families to learn about the universe together. These events often allow families the ability to use telescopes to view the skies, while having a knowledgeable guide to answer any questions the kids or parents may have.
If your child is showing an interest you would like to further, a telescope is obviously the next step. Telescopes range from $25.00 to $600.00. A focal length of 70mm or greater is recommended for beginners. Telescopes with a focal length under 70mm do not provide the detail needed to hold your child’s interest.
Spending time with your child observing the skies is quality time your child will always remember. With luck, your child will grow up understanding the world does not revolve around them.