Children are natural scientists. Their curiosity and wonder about the world around them provides fertile ground for learning. Stargazing is a beautiful opportunity to teach your child about the world around you. Sitting under the stars offers you the opportunity to just do nothing in particular, to simply sit, talk, and ultimately connect with your family. Whether you have a budding astronaut, wannabe astronomer, or simply a Star Wars fan (or two) in your family, stargazing is for you. Kids will be mesmerized by the majestic night sky and love learning how to identify constellations, planets, stars, and galaxies.
Make the Time
Stargazing requires some preplanning. Choose a night where your child will be able to stay up later than usual and hopefully they can sleep-in a little later the next morning. If you live in an area with a fair amount of light pollution set your sights on an area outside of the city lights, then hit the road. If you are looking for a place with dark sky check out the International Dark Sky Association’s Dark Sky Finder.
Set the Mood
Creating a relaxing and cozy setting is key to a great night of stargazing. A large blanket, or reclining beach chairs, are perfect for a night under the stars. A planisphere and guidebooks from the local library are perfect tools for finding and naming constellations. Snacks are another important part of a fun family night. Moonpies, Star Crunches, and Milky Way candy bars are perfect store bought treats, but you can also rename almost any snack with a space theme: Cosmic Crackers, Galaxy Cookies, Martian Milk, etc.
While stargazing in the summer is probably the most comfortable, don’t forget the other seasons! Early winter nights are ideal for children who have earlier bedtimes. Just put on your winter gear and don’t forget the hot chocolate!
Being realistic about your expectations is crucial for a successful night of stargazing. For the littlest members of your family simply watching the sky and singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” might be the extent of their attention span. Stargazing is a perfect time for storytelling. To keep your kiddos occupied and interested as you stargaze try checking your local library for several age-appropriate books. Just don’t forget a flashlight.
When planning for your night there are a multitude of resources for seeing what is visible in your area at any given time. Making a plan with your family of what you hope to see is a great way to set yourself up for success. A few great, free, apps for a night of stargazing are: Star Chart, NASA, Night Sky Lite, and Sky View Free. NASA Kids Club is another great resource as you plan your evening.
As you lie under that dark sky, contemplating the vastness of space, don’t forget to hug your children tight and remind them that they are the most important thing to you in this entire universe.