As a child, I used to lie on the cool grass on warm spring nights, looking up at the tiny pinpricks of light that formed the constellations. My father used to lie with me, pointing out Orion, the hunter, Cassiopeia, and Ursa Major, the great bear.
He told me the myths that were passed down from ancient Greece and how these objects ended up in our night time sky. As I listened to these tales, I no longer saw a diagram of luminous dots, but instead, the constellations became alive for me. I was able to see the Orion pulling back his mighty bow and the bear pouncing down his powerful paws, using the darkness of the night as his path. If we were lucky, we could see the mist of the Milky Way, which to me looked like a radiant road leading to other galaxies.
With so many cities sprouting up, it’s becoming more and more difficult for many of us to see the stars and experience moments like this with our own children. The clarity of the constellations are hidden beneath a spray of light illuminated by towns and cities, diffusing the once spectacular view. For those of us who don’t have the benefit of an expansive Montana sky to do our star gazing, we can take our children to learn about the stars and the planets at a planetarium.
Many colleges, universities and science centers offer shows to educate the public on the night time sky. These programs tell the story of how the universe was created and how it expanded and evolved. This teaches children the significance of the stars above them and how old these brilliant lights truly are. What they once saw as merely pinpricks of light now become celestial entities, billions of years old, billions of miles away. This teaches children that our planet is only a diminutive part of a vast universe, one filled with much to marvel about.
When you get home from the planetarium, take your child onto the Kids Astronomy website. Together, you can learn more about the solar system through interactive games and exploration. Have them make up their own constellation patterns by using their imaginations to see pictures in the night time sky. The universe can be intimidating, since it’s so large and so ancient and there are so many secrets still hidden amongst its brilliance. Teaching children about our solar system in a fun and interactive way not only increases their interest, but it turns a sky filled with wonder into an opportunity to explore creativity.
Creating a planetarium: Take a piece of construction paper and create patterns of the constellations, or of your child’s imagination with a pen. Poke holes in the pen marks with a nail. Fold the paper into a cone shape and tape the edges. In a darkened room, shine a light underneath the dome to cast your constellations onto the ceiling.