Here at Lie Back, Look Up, you will find plenty of stargazing and astronomy activities to do with your family. Many of these activities include a free printable, as well as tutorials and videos. Please let me know in the comments how your family has enjoyed these activities!
Getting kids excited about stargazing is important if you want to inspire a love for the night sky. One way to do this is to involve them in gathering and making the snacks for your stargazing session. Of course any favorite snacks will do, but for younger children, helping to make “themed” snacks can add a level of excitement.
Each of these snacks can be made by small children, with the assistance of an adult– my two oldest children (7 and 4.5) have both helped me to make these. While working together, each snack allows for discussion of an astronomy topic. These treats are also ideal for packing up and eating later, which is important if you are going to take them stargazing!
Meteorite Krispie Treats
Seeing a meteor shoot across the sky (often called a “shooting star“) is a very special thing to catch in the night sky. When these particles fall to the ground, we call them meteorites. Most meteorites (86%) are the rocky type, called chondrites. These are usually about 4.5 billion years old, and represent leftover material from the formation of our solar system. For more information on meteorites, check out the meteorite hunting show, Meteorite Men on the Science Channel.
For this easy treat, just follow the directions on the back of your favorite rice cereal box. Instead of pressing the mixture into a pan, let it cool slightly and have your children form it into meteorite-shaped lumps. Be sure to butter your child’s hands first, or you’ll have a very sticky mess on your hands– literally! While making these, we discussed the many different sizes of meteorites and how fun it would be to be a “meteorite hunter”. Once these have cooled, they pack up nicely for your stargazing trip.
Lunar Phase Sandwiches
This is another very simple snack to assemble, with a great topic to discuss with your kids while you are making it– lunar phases. There are many great sites out there describing the different phases of the moon. I especially love this video, made by an elementary class for a science project. Beyond learning the names of the phases, I think that one of the most important concepts to understand in astronomy is WHY we see different phases of the moon. This is a concept that I will cover in a later post (along with activities), but for a good introduction, try one of these on-line explanations. Be sure to stress to your kids that lunar phases are a result of different parts of the moon being lit up as it’s orbiting the earth, having NOTHING to do with the earth’s shadow on the moon.
For this snack, assemble your child’s favorite sandwich (ours are peanut butter & jelly), and then cut each out with a large cup. At this point, all of your sandwiches will be “full moons”. Next you can use the same cup to cut a few into crescent and gibbous moons, and a knife to cut a few into quarter moons. For older children, you can set the sandwiches out in order of the occurring phases, from new to full moon.
This is a great snack to bring to a family stargazing session. Kids love making cookies, especially when they get to use their creativity to decorate them. You can decorate your cookie bars with the seasonal constellations that you will be viewing, or let your children use their imaginations and make up their own constellations.
Begin with your favorite bar cookie recipe (I like to double this one), but be sure to go very light on the amount of chocolate chips that you add into the dough. After pouring the dough into the pan and smoothing the top, use chocolate chips to design your constellation. You can do the entire sky (using a seasonal sky map), or focus on one or two of your favorite constellations. My seven year-old used our Summer Sky Map (kids version) to make Scorpius, and my four year-old made up her own constellation.
You can use this same idea with individual cookies, icing each one and then decorating it with chocolate chips or sprinkles. A healthier version would be to make a pan of granola bars and decorate with raisins, or spread rice cakes with peanut butter and decorate with blueberries.
Solar System Fruit Kebabs
For a healthy snack, gather your favorite fruit to make these delicious kebabs. Use any spherical fruit, or scoop different types of melon with a melon baller. We used green and purple grapes, watermelon and cantaloupe.
Your children can assemble them using bamboo skewers. Point out the different sizes of fruit, and discuss how different the terrestrial (Mercury, Venus, Earth & Mars) and Jovian (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus & Neptune) planets are in size. You can also decide which planets are most similar to the different fruit in color. Do you have any extra-small spheres, maybe blueberries? Those could be dwarf planets Pluto, Ceres, Makemake, Eris or Haumea. If you were to make the solar system to scale, the Earth would be the size of a blueberry and the Sun would be the size of the entire watermelon!