For many families, summer is the ideal season for stargazing– the kids are out of school, the weather is beautiful, and everyone seems to be staying up later and sleeping in. Stargazing is for EVERYONE and ANYONE can do it! Here are three easy steps to successful stargazing as a family.
Step 1: Lie Back, Look Up
I know that this one seems like a no-brainer, given the name of this website, but the biggest reason that most families don’t stargaze is just simply because they don’t take the opportunity to look up at the sky together. In the Stargazing with Kids section, you will find a lot of information about how to set up an ideal time and location for stargazing as a family, but don’t let a lack of planning stop you! Anytime that you are outside as a family you can take a moment to look up at the sky and discuss what you see. Have you ever found yourself pulling into the driveway after a family outing, and as you leave the car you notice that it is a perfectly clear night and a million stars seem to be shining? Why not take 15 minutes to lay out a blanket and gaze up at the night sky as a family? These are the experiences that will spark a love for the stars in your children, and they will remember these impromptu stargazing sessions forever.
Step 2: Teach Each Other
The best summer constellation for children to find in the sky is the Big Dipper. If you can find this in the sky and show it to your children, that is just about all that you need to know to get started. For more background, check out the Stargazing Basics section or This Week’s Sky at a Glance. You can also talk about the similarities and differences that you see in the stars. Are they all the same color? brightness? size? distance from Earth? How is our Sun like these stars? How is it different? See if you can locate the three brightest stars in the southern sky, that form the Summer Triangle (print off the Summer Sky Map for help). Ask your children what they know about the stars and which constellations they have heard of. If you ask these types of questions, you might find your children asking you to find out the answers, or looking up the answers on their own!
Step 3: Use Your Imaginations
Our imaginations are what make stargazing accessible to everyone. Even if you can’t locate a single constellation in the sky, you can do what the many cultures before us have done, and find your own constellations and write your own stories. Ask your children to connect the stars to make a constellation and ask them to tell you a story about it. Imagine yourselves alive thousands of years ago, before technology and telescopes. What would you think that the stars were made of? How would you imagine that they came to be? Everyone can pick a star that they’d like to visit– What would you find there? Would there be planets there like the Earth? How long would it take you to get there? How would you travel?
Stargazing as a family really is an easy activity for everyone to participate in. You don’t need any special equipment, nor do you need a PhD in Astronomy to teach your children to appreciate the night sky. Be sure to take the time this summer to lie back and look up.