Astronomy For Young Children

This article provides suggestions for activities you can do with young children to interest them in astronomy. All children develop differently and at different rates so not all these activities will be of interest to all children and no specific age to complete these activities has been given for this reason. These activities should be suitable for most children between the ages of 2 and 7 but this is flexible depending on the child.

In early childhood, a child's brain is primed for learning which, teamed with an inbuilt curiosity, provides an ideal opportunity for involving them in astronomy and potentially setting them up for a lifelong hobby and interest. However, what also needs to be considered is that their attention span may be considerably less than an older child, particularly in the under 5 age range. Their logic and patterns of thought are also different to an adult, so it is important not to overload them with information that may be hard for them to process.

Basic astronomy can be tied into everyday life by making it an exiting part of the bedtime routine for your child. Choose a point in their routine, for example after brushing their teeth, to take them outside for a while - 10 minutes is a good starting point to build up from once you have gauged their level of interest and attention span.

On the first few trips outside, keep it reasonably simple as you are 'testing the waters' to see how your child reacts to the new part of the routine. Take some time to just look at the moon and stars, point out Polaris or make it a game by asking them to find the brightest star. On subsequent trips out you can begin to introduce other constellations and talk about the changing shape of the moon if you feel your child is ready for more information. There is no need to buy any equipment for children, but if you have your own binoculars or telescope to hand you may wish to let them have a quick look each night. When you go back inside you could also tie the evening together with an astronomy themed bedtime story if you have any.

Craft activities are generally popular with children and can be done independently or with other members of the family as a fun bonding session. They are incredibly versatile and adaptable, making them a perfect choice as an astronomy based activity as they can be modified to suit any child.

Simple colouring pictures with an astronomy based theme can be found easily through an internet search engine, or those who are more creative may wish to trace a picture or draw their own. These can then be given to a child to colour in. Pictures of planets can help children with colour recognition and number skills in addition to giving you a platform for teaching the names of the planets. Providing a book will allow the child to try and copy the colours and patterns onto the paper, or you can let them colour 'freestyle'.

Colouring pictures also make a great base for collage activities - just put out a mixture of different colours and textures such as foil, different papers, fabric etc., and some child-friendly glue and see where your child's imagination takes them. Collages are a great activity if your child has any sensory impairments as there are many different textures and colours for them to explore if you provide a good range.

Three dimensional projects can also interest and excite children and can be made using many different mediums, so can be tailored to what you have to hand or what materials your child likes to play with. Toilet and kitchen roll tubes make the great basis for rocket building and your child can either draw or stick decorations onto their rocket to personalise. To give them somewhere to 'fly' the rocket to, you could fill a tray with dry sand and rocks and provide a few people figurines as astronauts as an optional extension to the activity. Play-dough, salt dough and clay are alternative materials that can be used in model building.

Many children enjoy baking and helping out with food preparation. Getting them involved in an imaginary journey to space with a 'picnic on the moon' will not only get them thinking about astronomy, but also provides an opportunity get the whole family together having fun. Some ideas of food to serve would be meteors (rock cakes), gingerbread astronauts, Moon cheese and sandwiches cut into star or rocket shapes. If the picnic is held in the evening, it will give the family a chance to sit and watch the sun go down together and watch the first stars coming out.

© E. Gainford