Stars and Constellations

An updated version of this post appears at: https://inventorsoftomorrow.com/2017/02/28/stars-2/

Our theme this week was Astronomy – Stars and Constellations.

The big question was: What’s a star? (And what star is nearest to your home?)

We also talked about constellations – how members of ancient cultures “connected the dots” to make constellations and told stories about those constellations to make them easier to recognize and remember.

Science Projects

Make a constellation viewer. Kids placed a square of black construction paper over the end of a toilet paper tube, and rubber banded it in place. Then used a thumb tack to poke holes in the shape of a constellation. You can then look through the tube at a light to see the constellation, or shine a flashlight through the tube to project the constellation on a wall. (Note, if you want your projection to be accurate, you need to punch the holes so that when you look at it from the top, you see a mirror image of the constellation… either that, or punch it to match the constellation, then take the paper off, flip it over, and tape it down again.)

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Make a constellation projector. Kids took a large margarine tub and placed it bottom up on the table. Then they took a copy of a constellation pattern, and taped it onto the bottom of the tub. They then used either thumb tacks or nails and hammers to poke holes in the tub everywhere a star appeared on the star chart. (The thumb tacks were plenty strong to poke the holes, but kids enjoyed using the nails and hammers.) When finished, they could place the tub over a flashlight or lantern and project the constellations on the ceiling.IMG_20160123_123414252

Make a star chart felt board. Kids took a folder, opened it up and glued black (or deep blue) felt to one side. Then cut out white felt stars and moon that they could use to lay out constellations. When done, they can store the stars in the pocket of the folder.

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Art / Engineering Challenge: Star Mobile. We had cardstock they could glue aluminum foil to and then cut out stars. (That’s the art / small motor practice part.) Then, they moved to another table to assemble a mobile. Figuring out how to balance the arms of a mobile is definitely an engineering challenge – deciding how long the strings should be, how many items to put on each arm so it balances, and so on. This project was aimed at our 5 – 7 year olds and was definitely a challenge for them and their parents. Both parts (making the stars and making the mobile) were too challenging for our little ones.

Art

Collaborative Collage: We put out black foam core, white crayons, glue, cotton balls, legumes, and other items to represent stars, and encouraged kids to create a “night sky.”

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Starry Night: We had a poster of Van Gogh’s Starry Night next to the easel, and put out the paint colors needed for it and big brushes so children could try to duplicate it.

Pocket star: The next time we do this topic, we will have the children make small stars they can tuck in their pockets. (To go with an activity in closing circle.) Haven’t figured out the medium yet – maybe model magic clay?

Tinkering / Free Exploration

Giant Tinker Toy Constellations: We drew three constellations on the board, and encouraged kids to replicate them, using the “hub” pieces of tinker toys as stars, and the “tubes” to connect them into constellations. To be honest, the kids instead used the tinker toys as construction toys, and built blasters, light sabers, cars, lawn mowers, etc. But one of the dads built a great model of the Orion constellation!  We also have regular sized tinker toys, and I suspect that kids might have been more likely to build constellations with these small table top toys.

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Sensory Table: We had red kinetic sand (to represent Mars), and Mars rovers / moon rovers, and star shaped small cake molds. Our other idea was sensory materials such as rice combined with plastic animals that appear in the constellations.

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Geo-Boards: This are an easy “connect the dot” activity where kids fasten rubber bands on the nails on a board to make patterns. This ties in with the idea of looking up at the stars and connecting the dots to make constellations.

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Coloring / Connect the Dots: We also considered having a project where kids could connect the dots to form constellations, then color them in. If you search for “constellation coloring pages for kids” you’ll find lots of options for this.

Matching Game: You could also create a matching game, where some of the cards showed a picture of a pattern of stars without the constellation drawn, other cards show the lines of the constellation and others show the illustration of the constellations.

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Opening Circle

Explained the basic concepts of stars and constellations. Showed a telescope and talked about how it could be used to study the stars.

We used a “starry night” lantern (similar to this one) to project stars on the wall to demonstrate looking up at the sky and finding constellations.

We had drawn the Big Dipper on the board. We extended the drawing to show how it was part of Ursa Major – the big bear. We asked the kids if bears really have long tails like that, then told the story of why this one does: we simplified it down to “Zeus wanted to save a bear from a hunter, so he picked it up by the tail, swung it round and round his head and threw it up into the sky.” (For more details on this story, plus tales of this constellation from Mongolia, China, and Native American Algonquin and Blackfoot tribes, go to StarrySkies.com. You can also search for ‘myths of big dipper” – this star cluster is one of the most recognizable, so appears in many cultures. You could also share the song “Follow the Drinking Gourd.” Slaves escaping the south via the Underground Railroad sang this song, which refers to the big dipper, which points to the north star. If they aimed for the north star, they were heading north.)

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Book – Fancy Nancy Sees Stars. We will be doing a planetarium field trip in a few weeks, and this book is a nice lead into that, as it tells a story of a class going on a similar field trip. (It gets a little bogged down in telling a story of how the rain is so bad they can’t get to the planetarium on the designated night, so I might skip / summarize a few pages.)

Closing Circle – age 5 – 7

Book –  Zoo in the Sky: A Book of Animal Constellations. This book has beautiful illustrations, and nice text about the tales related to the constellations that are named after animals. It also works well for younger children.

Dramatic Play – We told a very simplified story of Perseus and Andromeda (see a full story here, or listen to a podcast children’s story telling the tale from Andromeda’s perspective.) We had a serpent puppet, an Andromeda puppet, and a Perseus costume, and children could take turns acting it out.

Closing Circle – Age 3 and 4

Song – Twinkle: We started off by saying “you all know a song about a star… what is it?” When they didn’t immediately guess, I just held up my hands and made a twinkling motion, and they guessed Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. We sang it once through, then told them we’d sing it again, and we would show them sign language words you could use to say the words of the song with your hands. (See a video of the signs here.)

We asked whether you could see stars in the daytime, and reminded them that yes, we always see the star Sol in the daytime (our sun.) But we also talked about how at the very end of the day, when it’s still light out, if you look hard, you may see the first star of the night appear.

Rhyme: We taught the rhyme “Star Bright, Star Light, First Star I See Tonight. Wish I may, wish I might, have this wish I wish tonight.” Then we asked them what they might wish for.

Book – Stars by Mary Lyn Ray. We said we’d talked about the science of stars, now we were going to talk about the magic of stars, and how people throughout history have thought about them as magical and special. We read this book which is a fanciful story of making a star to keep in your pocket.

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Song – Catch a Falling Star: We taught the chorus of “Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, save it for a rainy day. Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, never let it fade away.” Then, we put on the music (using this YouTube video), and blew bubbles, pretending the bubbles were falling stars they were trying to catch. (A couple minutes of catching bubbles is always a hit with this age group!)

For more star activities that work for ages 1 – 5, check out my Fun With Toddlers series post about Stars and Moons.

More Books

  • Our Stars by Rockwell. I think this is a perfect book for circle time for 4 – 6 year olds – it’s a nice overview of everything you need to know about space and astronomy. My husband has quibbles with some of the details (like where it says “I can see billions of stars” which is more than you really see, or where it says “when you see Orion in the sky… it’s the season to harvest” – he thinks it needs to specify when you see Orion in the EVENING sky, as you can see it later in the night or early in the morning at lots of times other than harvest season) but I think the overall quality of the book outweighs these little things.
  • The Sky Is Full of Stars by Branley (an expert astronomer) is another very nice overview of astronomy and constellations, and I really recommend it for a 5 – 7 year old. But it’s long, so not a circle time book.
  • The Big Dipper (is also by Branley and is quite a nice introduction to star gazing and constellations, with focused attention on one – the Big Dipper. I like this focus, because I think it would then be easy for you to find the Big Dipper with your child within a few days of reading this book and they’d have the excitement of recognition. Appropriate for circle time (engaging and short) for ages 3 – 6.
  • How to Catch a Star  by Jeffers. I really love this book (as I loved Stars – described under circle time) for it’s imaginative / fantasy feel. There’s a boy who loves stars and wants one to put in his pocket. He tries and tries to reach it, then gives up, then a sea star washes ashore for him to carry. Pretty, elegantly simple illustrations. I think this would be a good circle time book for ages 3 and up. My five year old found it delightful as he understood that there was no way the boy would get a real star, but then it was fun when a different kind of star came to him.
  • Once Upon a Starry Night: A Book of Constellations  by Mitton is a companion to Zoo in the Sky. It’s also a very pretty book. It shows the stars of constellations as part of a fully illustrated image of what that constellation represents, and has a very brief version of the story that goes with the constellation – not informative enough to be your only book on the topic but pretty enough that you’ll want to look at it!
  • Stars! Stars! Stars! by Barner. Again, very nice illustrations – this is a pretty children’s book. I find the words don’t have a rhythm and rhyme – it seems like they want to, but it just doesn’t flow well, so it’s not as enjoyable to read aloud as I wish it were.

 

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