What to Pack
- Snacks and water
- Paper and crayons
- Star map (see below)
- Optional: tent, sleeping bags, book about constellations such as Peterson First Guides: Astronomy, telescope or binoculars
- Set a date. Choose a warm, clear night for stargazing. Nights with a new moon are best.
- Get set. Go to Kidcosmos.org and print out a sky map that will display which constellations are visible this month at around 9 PM.
- Count the stars. When stars first appear in the night sky, they may be easy to count. A little while later? Not so much!
- Hunt for the Big Dipper. Have your child look for Ursa Major, a constellation with seven stars. Three stars form a broken line and four make up a rectangle. Can you see the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor) nearby?
- Spot the North Star. Draw an imaginary line from the two outer stars of the Big Dipper toward the Little Dipper. That's the North Star—the last star at the end of the Little Dipper's handle. The North Star is always in the north so it's often used for navigation. Test it by using a compass. Is the star in the same direction as the arrow pointing north?
- See the W? Near the Little Dipper, you can spot a constellation in the shape of the letter W. That's Cassiopeia. If the sky was a connect-the-dots puzzle, could kids make any other letters in the sky? Any numbers? Any shapes?
- Go on safari. For thousands of years, people have looked at the stars and thought they've seen pictures of people or animals—Leo the Lion, Gemini the Twins, Orion the Hunter. Can you kids see any animals? If so, make up names for them.
- Color the stars. At first, all stars seem white. Upon closer inspection, your child might see ones that appear red, yellow or blue. The colors depend on the star's temperature. Red ones are relatively cool; yellow, next hottest; and blue, the hottest.
- Pick a planet. How can you tell the difference between stars and planets? (Planets almost never twinkle.)
- Follow the leader. Do stars move? To find out, find the Big Dipper early in the evening and then again later. You'll see that it seems to be in a different place. But the stars didn't move, the Earth did! A "star" that travels slowly across the sky in the south may be a satellite.
- Investigate: Ask your young scientist these questions:
- What else can you see in the night sky? The moon? Clouds? Birds? Planets? Airplanes? Satellites? Fireflies?
- Can you see stars in the daytime? Did you know that the sun is a star?
- Can you sing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star"?
- Record your findings. Have kids draw dots or stars on their sheets of paper and then connect them to make an animal or other shape.
- Read all about it. Check out Henry and Mudge and the Starry Night by Cynthia Rylant, Toasting Marshmallows: Camping Poems by Kristine O'Connell George, Wishing on a Star: Constellation Stories and Stargazing Activities for Kids by Fran Lee and Zoo in the Sky: A Book of Animal Constellations by Jacqueline Mitton.
Bonus Explorer Activity Draw your own star map based on your observations. Then go stargazing next month and see how the sights have changed.
For more ways to explore together, play Dora's Great Big World game, find do-together Dora crafts, recipes, and activities, and print a personalized Explorer Kit for your child at DoraTheExplorer.com.
Thanks to Susan Hood
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