With winter’s shorter days come more opportunities to explore nature at night. Heading outside and looking up at the night sky for a few minutes is one of the simplest ways for you and the kids to make a nature connection right in your own backyard.
Don’t panic if astronomy isn’t your thing (it’s not mine). You don’t have to have all the answers – you just need to be willing to share in the wonder of the moment.
Before you head outside, make sure you’ve got the basics covered:
- Choose a spot where you have a clear view of the sky, like a lawn, patio, or another open area.
- Get comfortable. Consider lawn chairs and blankets. Warm clothes and hot chocolate help, too. If you have a telescope, set it up. If not, try binoculars.
- Turn off outdoor lights and focus only on the night sky. It’ll take at least 20 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness, so be patient.
What to do once you’re outside? Here are a few backyard astronomy ideas perfect for kids:
Watch a sunset
The night sky adventures kick off with each sunset. Have you ever noticed how long it is between the sunset and total darkness? Or stuck around after a sunset to watch the stars come out?
Start a moon diary
One way to learn about the phases of the moon is to keep a moon diary. You’ll need a piece of paper (or a blank notebook) and something to write with. Then head outside after the moon has risen. Draw or write down what the moon looks like each night for one month.
Winter boasts more brilliant stars than any other season of the year. Counting them is especially fun for the littlest explorers – and even better if you have a chance to watch the stars as they first begin to appear in the night sky. Can you find the biggest? The brightest?
Look for constellations
Older kids may enjoy looking for constellations among the stars. Orion is the most prominent during winter, but you can check for others online.
Since I’m not very familiar with the night sky myself, we enlist the help of modern technology. The Big Explorer likes to use the SkyView Free app on my iPhone to spot constellations. You point the screen to the night sky and the app tells you what you’re looking at.
Observe a full moon
While star watching might not be ideal during a full moon, actually seeing a full moon is pretty exciting, even for big kids. Check the Old Farmer’s Almanac for the dates of upcoming full moons near you.
By Debi Huang from GoExploreNature.com