I have a book titled I Love Dirt: 52 Activities to Help You and Your Kids Discover the Wonder of Nature, written by Jennifer Ward (Trumpeter Books, 2008). It’s a sweet and swell little book that goes beyond the nature activities one might expect. (Case in point: A section on watching ants, which I will post soon.) The chapter on stargazing promises to stimulate “observation skills, infinite wonder, and imagination.” Hard to go wrong with that! Here’s how:
Stargazing is a wonderful way to relax and let any tensions from the day slip away, far away. Provide your child with an opportunity to imagine and wonder infinitely as she gazes at the night sky, her thoughts lost in space. Sit outside at night with your child, look upward, and let the moon and the stars do the rest.
Invite the shining star in your life to join you outside to watch the sunset, and while you relax together and watch the daylight slip into night, hunt for the first visible star in the darkening sky. The first person to spy a star gets to make a wish! Find the second visible star and wish on it too. Find the third, and the fourth, and the fifth visible stars. Make a wish for every star you see.
As the sky darkens, continue stargazing with your child. Do all stars look the same? How are they different? (Some are brighter than others. Some look white or yellow. Some even look red.)
Scientists who study the stars know that a star’s color reflects its temperature. Blue stars are the hottest, whereas red stars are the coolest. Have a stellar scavenger hunt with your child as you count how many red stars you can find in the sky, and ask how many superbright white or blue stars are there.
Ask your child what she wonders about the stars. Focus and gaze. Consider how far away each star is.
Stars are enormous. Our sun, the star closest to Earth, is just an average-sized star. It’s not the biggest star or the smallest. If the sun were hollow, 1 million balls the size of the Earth could fit inside it.
If stars are so huge, why do they look so small? Try this experiment with your child: Find a small to medium-sized object, such as a rock, and hold it up for your child to see. Ask her to watch the object as you continue holding it up while walking away. walk and walk, creating a distance between your child and you. The farther away you are, the smaller the object will look. It works the same way with stars. They appear small, even though they are truly enormous, because they are so far away.