Are your kids super into astronauts? Do they wonder what it would be like to live on Mars? Are they fascinated by space ships and aliens?
Children are wonderfully curious. This guide will help you support your children’s curiosity about the night sky, the solar system, science, and the entire universe.
Keep reading to get ideas for hands-on projects and activities that will get the whole family involved in astronomy!
Stargaze as a Family
You can enjoy stargazing on basically any camping trip. I have many fond childhood memories of nights spent in a tent in the great outdoors. Sure, sometimes it was cold or rainy, and sometimes we literally just pitched the tent in the backyard.
But what I mostly remember from those camping trips: spending time with my family and exploring the great outdoors.
Many planetariums and astronomy clubs host family-friendly stargazing nights. Join a group of likeminded people and head to a dark area where you can see the stars especially well. Often, you’ll have the chance to look through a telescope with the guidance of an expert.
Visit a Planetarium
Speaking of planetariums…If you live near one, you’re in luck! I love visiting my local planetarium on weekends, watching a star show, and learning more about astronomy. I love the interactive exhibits—great for curious young kids—and the mesmerizing star shows.
Don’t live in or near any of those cities? Check the map on the British Association of Planetaria to find a planetarium in your area.
Planetariums and science museums are ideal places to visit if you and your kids are curious about…
- Will we ever live on Mars? Or travel at the speed of light?
- What is life like on a spaceship? How do astronauts survive?
- What are the planets made of? Do they have atmospheres?
- How and why do stars “die”? What will happen when our Sun burns out?
- Where did the Moon come from? Why does it have craters?
- How realistic are Star Wars, Star Trek, and other science fiction?
So, if you like live shows and hands-on activities, head to your nearest planetarium. Warning: Your kids may come home determined to become astronauts.
There are tons of arts and crafts options to get the whole family involved in astronomy. Here are a few of my favourites:
- Constellation Jar Lamp: With a few simple materials—a jar, aluminium foil, and some LED lights—you can bring the night sky inside. This is a fun project for kids and makes an awesome decoration.
- Constellation Cards: Sending thank you notes or holiday cards anytime soon? Try making these simple and pretty constellation cards. As children learn the stories behind constellations, they can choose some to turn into a card.
- Marshmallow Constellations: This tasty, hands-on activity is another one that teaches kids about the stars and lets them make their favourites.
- Planets Board Game: This board game is a great way to learn more about the solar system. So branch out from Monopoly and make your own game!
- Model Magic Planets: Planets are cool. There’s deep blue Neptune, Saturn with its rings, rusty red Mars…it’s fun to learn about the planets, and it’s also fun to make your own! Using Styrofoam balls and Model Magic, you and your kids can make your very own solar system.
- Phases of the Moon: The Moon is one of the easiest objects to see in the night sky (and sometimes during the day too). Use this activity to teach your children about the phases of the Moon, to help them understand how and why its appearance changes.
- Sun Paintings: Combine art and science with this kid-friendly craft. Painting the Sun lets children exercise their creativity with bright colours—and it’s a good opportunity to teach them about the Sun: what solar flares, eclipses, and sunspots are, why the Sun is so important to our solar system, and how to stay safe (no looking right at the Sun!).
- Sundials: In the past, people didn’t have the clocks, watches, and phones that we have now. So how did they tell time? Many used sundials to keep track of the Sun’s position in the sky, which gave them a good idea of the time. Make your own with this simple tutorial!
Learn about Constellations
There’s something magical about the night sky—the twinkling, faraway stars that can be connected into all sorts of patterns, like an elaborate game of connect-the-dots.
Historically, people have decided that some of these patterns have meaning. They’ve drawn constellations in the sky, told stories about them, and even used these constellations to navigate. Imagine you were sailing at night hundreds of years ago: Without modern GPS technology and Google Maps, how would you find your way?
Learning the constellations will teach your kids about astronomy, history, and mythology all at once.
Do you already know the major constellations? Maybe just Orion or perhaps the Big Dipper?
Luckily, there are lots of resources out there to help you learn your way around the stars.
- Google Sky: This tool is tons of fun; I love just browsing through the night sky to see what’s out there. There’s also a useful “Constellations” tab that will show you what the constellations look like and where they are.
- Learn the Sky: This brilliant YouTube channel will teach you all about the stars and help you locate constellations like Gemini, Cygnus, and Delphinus. Plus, you’ll learn about the legends behind the constellations.
- Science Online: This channel hosts all sorts of science content, including videos on astronomy. For example, this video tutorial shows you what the Big Dipper looks like and how to find it. Luckily, the seven stars in this constellation are quite bright and easy to find even if there’s light pollution in your area.
Once you’ve learned some constellations, why not head outside with your family and share your knowledge?
Learning the Stories of the Constellations
Constellations have fascinated people for thousands of years. Where did they come from? What do they mean? Many different societies have created stories to answer these questions.
Today, we still know many constellations by their Greek names: Orion, Pegasus, Cygnus, Perseus, Hercules, and so on. All of these figures are characters in Greek myths.
For example: Orion was a famous hunter who was very skilled with a bow and arrow. One day, he went out hunting, hoping to impress the goddess Artemis. He killed many, many animals. Artemis became very angry at all the unnecessary death he had caused. She stamped her foot and called up a large scorpion, which stung and killed Orion as punishment. Now, you can see Orion in the sky, where he is easily identified by the stars in his belt.
You can find more Greek myths and their links to the constellations here.
So, teach your kids the ancient stories behind the stars. We can all participate in the long human history of looking in wonder at the sky and making meaning from them.
You can also encourage kids to come up with their own constellations and stories. What shapes do they see among the stars?
Buy Binoculars or a Telescope
If your kids are truly obsessed with outer space, it might be time to get a telescope or a set of binoculars.
Binoculars are a great option because they’re very portable, easy to pack on a camping trip or take outside whenever you’re in the mood to observe. They’re versatile. You can point them at wildlife in addition to night sky objects like the Moon. Plus, binoculars are often more affordable and easier to use than telescopes.
Overall, I recommend starting out with a pair of binoculars. Learn to use them, let your kids enjoy them, and observe the night sky. Then think about getting a telescope.
A good telescope is a pretty big investment, but I do recommend it if your children show an enduring interest in astronomy. It’s a great way to encourage their curiosity and let them see the Moon and planets up-close and personal.
Choosing a telescope model
Overall, you should pick a telescope model based on three main factors:
- High quality optics
It’s important to get a reasonably high-quality telescope—a £20 cheapo will give you more frustration than fun. So invest a little more (say between £75 and £200) for a telescope that lets your family see the Moon, planets, and stars in some detail.
Other than quality, I think the two most important factors when buying a kid-friendly telescope are portability and ease of use.
A lightweight, compact telescope will get far more use than a huge, heavy one. A nice “grab-and-go” model is perfect for an excited kid who wants to do some quick backyard observing.
And then there’s user-friendliness. Is the telescope quick to set up, or do you have to fuss with it for an hour? Can you easily locate objects with it? Do your research before you buy to ensure that the telescope is relatively simple to use.
Using a pair of binoculars or telescope with your kids
So you’ve got a decent pair of binoculars: Now what? If your kids are very young (say, around 4 or 5), then the main problem you’ll face is probably shaky, unsteady hands. Small children find it hard to keep binoculars steady.
What to do? Check out this guide to building a binocular mount!
There will be a bit of a learning curve with any new telescope, especially if it’s also your first ever telescope. Be patient! Take your time to read the instructions. Personally, I like involving my kids in setting up a new telescope and looking through it for the first time. This way, we’re all learning and discovering together.
Depending on your preferences, and the ages of your kids, you may want to spend some time getting to know your new telescope on your own—then show your kids the ropes.
Obviously, your approach will depend a lot on your children’s ages. A 14-year-old and a 4-year-old will be able to participate at different levels in setting up the telescope, finding objects, and bringing them into focus.
Eventually, your children will learn to operate the telescope on their own (or with minimal supervision). This is a fantastic way for them to work on motor skills, build confidence, practise problem-solving, and gain independence.
Astronomy Books and Educational Resources for Kids
I’ll finish this guide with a rundown of some of my favourite books and resources on astronomy.
- Seth Fishman, A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars, illustrated by Isabel Greenberg; good for ages 4-8
- Rob Lloyd Jones, Look Inside Space, illustrated by Benedetta Giaufret and Enrica Rusinà, ages 3+
- Kathi Wagner and Sheryl Racine, The Everything Kids’ Astronomy Book, ages 9-12
- The Astronomical Society of the Pacific maintains a long list of hands-on activities you can enjoy with your family.
- Gift of Curiosity offers a whole study unit on Space designed to teach kids all about the Sun, Moon, planets, stars, and the life of an astronaut.
- NASA Kids’ Club is an interactive educational space where kids can practise driving the Mars Rover, learn about the International Space Station, and more! NASA also maintains webpages for students and for educators.
The universe is huge, and learning about it can last a lifetime. Whether you’re home-schooling your kids, or simply supporting their hobbies, I hope you and your family have an amazing time as you learn together about the solar system, outer space, and the mysteries that scientists are still researching. Which activity would you most like to try?