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5 Solar Eclipse Activities For Your Budding Astronomers

What child doesn't pepper her parents with questions about the moon, the stars, or the color of the sky? Kids are naturally curious, and if you have one, you probably already know they're always looking up. With the solar eclipse scheduled for Aug. 21, it's time to focus on some solar eclipse activities for kids that can help make this a once-in-a-lifetime event even more fun and educational. (Especially since you'll probably be barking at them to wear their solar eclipse glasses the whole time.)

Speaking of glasses, safety comes first, so be sure to purchase eclipse glasses approved by the International Standards Organization (ISO) and help kids wear them. According to Russell N. Van Gelder, MD, PhD, Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Washington School of Medicine, looking at the sun without proper eyewear "can literally burn a hole in the retina." He tells Romper, "It’s essential that parents help their kids with safe viewing of the eclipse."

Also, be sure to look up the path of the solar eclipse. Millions of Americans will experience a partial, but only select cities will experience the totality. Luckily, those cities span the nation — if you don't live in one, you're probably within a day's drive. A stunning astronomical event just might stoke a lifelong interest in science, so consider a road trip. Even if your kid decides the Humanities are more their thing, the memories will last a lifetime.


Play With "Bear's Shadow"

"Astronomy is an observational science and young children are keen observers of the world around them," notes Jennifer Jipson, PhD, in an email to Romper. Jipson is the education advisor for The Goddard School For Early Childhood Development, and she's enthusiastic about the event. "The upcoming solar eclipse offers the opportunity for them to take part in a rare moment when major astronomical events are visible during the daytime — when young children are awake!"

When the moon blocks the sun, an enormous shadow paints the earth. Most kids don't totally get shadows, so consider trying a hands-on activity beforehand. The better your child understands the science, the more they'll get out of their eclipse observation. A hands-on shadow activity recommended by The Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) in association with Penn State and other institutions, including UC Santa Cruz and California Polytechnic State University, begins with checking out the book Moonbear's Shadow by Frank Asch, or watching a YouTube animation of Bear Shadow's with your kids. Then, break out your flashlight to represent the Sun and a figurine for the bear. Let your children experiment with stretching and shrinking the bear's shadow, making observations as they do. Children as young as three will enjoy the game, and ASP's website offers prompts, "challenge cards," and extra guidance to help you bring "Bear's Shadow" to life.


Get Crafty

"Young children benefit when families plan to observe the eclipse together — they not only observe a rare scientific phenomenon, they observe their parents' enthusiasm," writes Jipson. "This can spark continued interest in thinking about and talking about science more generally."

So get excited for the weekend, and buy some craft supplies at Target. If you're not the crafty type, a picture of a solar eclipse — or a ball held up to a lamp — works great, too. ASP suggested asking lots of questions to prompt scientific thinking:

  • "What do you notice in the photograph?"
  • "What do you think causes a solar eclipse?"
  • "If the sun is in the sky, does the eclipse occur during the day or at night?"

You don't have to be a scientist yourself to engage your child's curiosity. Spark thinking by asking questions — and don't worry if you don't have all the answers. It's the spark that counts.

For the truly artsy older child, NASA recommended making a colorful eclipse time capsule (backyard burial optional).


Eclipse Observation Conversation

As the moon crosses the face of the sun, talk to your kids about what they see. Encourage them to look up and down. "The shadows of the eclipse on the ground will also provide an amazing observational experience and the slightly odd lighting will fascinate children and adults alike," explains Jipson.

What else is going on around them? Do wildlife quiet? Does the family dog seem a little nervous? And make predictions: do you think the moon will block all the sun's light, or just most of it? How long do you think the eclipse will last?

On the drive home, pass out the crayons. Drawing a picture of what they saw will help the event stick in your children's minds and prompt further discussion when you post it on the fridge. Again, don't worry if you're not an astronomy buff. If your kid asks you a question you can't answer, congratulate them on being awesome, and plan a trip to your local public library.


Do The Solar Eclipse Shuffle

Who doesn't love dancing, especially after a few hours in the family minivan (assuming you're not lucky enough to observe the eclipse from your backyard)? For those who bring their dancing shoes, NASA is sponsoring #EclipseDance.

Film a short video — less than one minute — of you and your family performing a dance inspired by this astronomical event. Bonus points for choreographing one in advance.

Oh, and those hours in the minivan? Don't let them go to waste. NPR is bound to air eclipse programming, and you can discuss what you learn during the breaks. If radio's not your jam, plug your phone into the car and play How Stuff Works — Solar Eclipse Edition.


Decorate Your Eclipse Glasses

Finally, kids will get a kick out of decorating their eclipse glasses, and NASA is full of colorful ideas. But whatever you do, don't scratch the lenses or loosen them in the frame. Safety first, of course.

You can find loads of eclipse 2017 activities across the internet, but ultimately, the key to making the most of the event with kids is your own engagement. Jennfier Jipson, The Goddard's School's education advisor, believes that your excitement will rub off on your kids. By encouraging children to think like scientists, you'll broaden their curiosity. Don't look now, but you may be living with tiny future astronomers. Maybe they'll even wear their eclipse glasses to graduation.