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Are your children interested in learning more about the physical sciences? We'll be adding a series of activities to explore:

  • Astronomy (today)
  • Meteorology
  • Earth Science
  • Physics
  • Chemistry

Astronomy is the study of objects and processes that occur out in space. Astronomy covers the moon, planets, the solar system, asteroids, comets, stars, nebulae, galaxies, etc.

Let's start our study with near objects.

moonset-peake(Photograph by Tim Peake of the European Space Agency Image Credit: ESA/NASA)

The Moon

Begin by observing the moon on a clear night, which will raise a child’s interest and start the questions flowing. Check the newspaper for the weather, phase of moon and local times when the moon will rise and set.

Try to find an area away from lights and look at the moon. Take a pair of binoculars or a telescope with you, if available (The moon is bright, so don’t stare at it with binoculars for too long).

Activity 1.  Making Craters

The most obvious features on the face of the moon are the impact craters. Children can create and study craters using a simple model.

Gather:

  • Flour
  • Powdered cocoa or cornmeal
  • Unbreakable pan
  • Marbles and/or rocks
  • Candy sprinkles (optional)
  • Newspaper or garbage bags (optional)

Find a level surface, preferably outside or indoors where a bit of flour won't cause a mess. Cover the surface with some newspaper or flat garbage bags to help with clean up. Fill a large pan (preferably unbreakable, such as aluminum or plastic) halfway with flour. If you want, you can also add a thin layer of candy sprinkles to represent other minerals present under the surface. Finally, gently add a thin layer of cocoa powder or cornmeal.

Have your kids drop various round objects into the flour. The results should be some interesting craters and splash patterns, which are the patterns of debris shot out of the crater with impact.

This video from NASA gives more complete details.

Related:

1. Outreach Resources from Night Sky Network, which include the following activities to download (may have to provide some information for access) :

  • Does the moon rotate?
  • Observing the Moon
  • Why does the moon have phases?
  • Why do eclipses happen?

2. World Space Week Heinlein Teacher Kit (direct link to .pdf)

3. Geology.com has an interactive map of the 50 largest impact craters on Earth.

The Solar System

The next step into astronomy is to study the planets and other objects in the solar system.

Activity 2:  Make a poster or model of the solar system.

One simple way to study all the planets is to create a mobile or poster of the solar system. How complicated a project this can be will depend on the age and interests of your child. Use your imagination and move beyond Styrofoam balls (which can be expensive).

Suggested materials:

  • Cloth
  • Salt clay or model magic
  • Paper maché
  • Yarn/string (see video below)
  • Balloons
  • Paper

How to make decorative balls out of yarn that could be used for a solar system model:


You can also purchase model kits made of various materials.


(Amazon Affiliate Link)

Related Resources:

Exploratorium has a calculator to determine the relative sizes and distances for a scale model.

The European Space Agency has an excellent set of lesson plans complete with full color images of objects in the solar system to download:  Our Solar System

The McDonald Observatory has a lesson on making a scale model of the solar system (direct .pdf link) to download (as well as many related lessons)

When the mobile/model is completed, ask some questions. Why do we have night and day? What is an eclipse? Why do we have seasons? A sophisticated model can help answer some of these questions.

Activity 3:  Outdoor Solar System Scale Models

Take a field trip to an outdoor scale model of the solar system. Wikimedia has a partial list of scale models found throughout the world.

In Arizona try:

  1. The Solar System Walk at the Environmental Education Center in Chandler, Arizona
  2. Display around the observatory at the Gilbert Riparian Preserve, Gilbert, Arizona.
  3. The Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Do you know where there's a scale model of the solar system to explore? Please leave a comment.

Books about planets and the solar system

planet-books-button

Stars/Universe

It might seem like it would be difficult to study something as large and complex as the the universe, but there are actually many potential hands-on activities.

  1. Take a trip to a planetarium.
  2. Study dust
  3. Make your own galaxy
  4. Scale model of a black hole (advanced)
  5. Constellation Detective (direct link to .pdf)
  6. Build your own telescope, for example using this kit from Home Science Tools (I am not affiliated with this company)

Want to learn more? Khan Academy has video lessons about stars, black holes and galaxies.

Lists of related children's books at Science Books for Kids:

Children's books about stars and the universe.

stars-books-button

For National Poetry Month, try our list of Poetry Books about Space

space-poetry-for-kids

 

Physical Science Investigations

This week is filled with special celebrations. Wednesday was Earth Day, today is Arbor Day (see last Friday's post for suggestions for marking Arbor Day), and tomorrow, April 25, 2015, is Astronomy Day. What a great week to get out and celebrate nature and science!

Today, let's get ready for Astronomy Day.

What better way to explore the universe than through a good book? To get started, we have a middle grade nonfiction title: DK Eyewitness Books: Universe.

You are probably familiar with DK's Eyewitness series. The books are perfect for visual learners because they include fabulous illustrations against non-distracting white backgrounds. Also, the text is broken into well-organized chunks, allowing the reader to quickly access pertinent information without feeling overwhelmed.

This title starts with overviews of the history of our discoveries and also some of the chemistry and physics behind those discoveries. It then discusses some of the more familiar aspects of the universe, such as the moon, planets and solar system before moving into nebulae, star cycles, black holes, etc. In the back matter is a fact-filled discovery timeline of many important events in the field of astronomy.

We are rapidly learning more about our universe and a fresh new title from DK is a great way to keep current.

Age Range: 8 - 12 years
Publisher: DK Children (March 10, 2015)
ISBN-10: 146543187X
ISBN-13: 978-1465431875

Reminder: 

The children's picture book, A Place in Space, will be available for free to download at Amazon tomorrow. See our previous post for information and a link.

Looking for more children's books about astronomy? Try our lists organized by age level and genre at Science Books for Kids:

planet-books-buttonList of children's books about the planets, solar system and lunar landing

space-poetry-for-kidsChildren's Poetry Books about Space

 

stars-books-buttonAnd our list of books that explore beyond the solar system (under construction)

Do you have a favorite children's book about astronomy? Please feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments.

Happy Arbor Day!

 

Disclosures: The book above was from my local library. Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon. If you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.

 

2

For our regular STEM Friday feature we recommend two books about trees for children, just in time for Arbor Day, next Friday April 24, 2015. (Read the rest of the reviews and see a video book trailer at Wrapped in Foil blog.) Then we'll finish out Butterfly Gardening With Children Week with a discussion of trees for butterfly gardens.

The first book, Branching Out: How Trees Are Part of Our World by Joan Marie Galat and illustrated by Wendy Ding (2014), describes a particular species of tree, how it used by humans, and what animals depend on that kind of tree in a series of four-page spreads. The 11 species of trees highlighted range from red maples and downy birches to pau brasil and cork oaks.

The second book, Celebritrees: Historic and Famous Trees of the World by Margi Preus and illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon (2011), consists of a series of two-page spreads telling the stories of 14 famous, tall and exceptionally-old trees from around the world, the back matter gives more information about the trees and a number of suggestions about what the reader can do to help and encourage trees.

Appropriate for butterfly gardening week:  In the section about oak trees in the back matter of this book, we find out that a single large oak tree can support up to 34 species of butterflies!

That fact reminds us that although growing pretty flowers helps the adult butterflies, to have a truly productive butterfly garden you need to supply food for caterpillars as well.

Many beautiful species of butterflies require trees as larval hosts.

Examples:

1. Hackberry trees (Celtis species) are larval food for

  • Tawny emperor butterflies
  • Hackberry emperor butterflies
  • Mourning cloak butterflies
  • Question Mark butterflies
  • Snout butterfly

mystery-butterfly-2-identicationThe snout butterfly

Hackberry_Emperor,_Megan_McCarty46Hackberry emperor butterfly (Public domain photograph by Megan McCarty)

(Seed of the Week post about Canyon Hackberry)

2. Live oaks are larval food for California sister butterfly larvae.

California-sister-butterflyCalifornia sister butterfly, Ramsey Canyon, Arizona

Some duskywings and hairstreaks also use oaks for food.

3. Black cherry (Prunus serotina) trees are larval food for:

  • Red-spotted purple
  • Eastern tiger swallowtail
  • Coral hairstreak

4. Citrus trees (orange, lemon grapefruit) attract numerous giant swallowtails. Their larvae are called orange dog caterpillars.

caterpillar-orange-dogAn orange dog caterpillar on a grapefruit leaf

In addition to larval food, trees provide shelter for butterflies (and a multitude of other animals), provide safe places for the caterpillars to pupate, and some flowering trees supply nectar for many more adult butterflies.

In his book, Bringing Nature Home, entomologist  Doug Tallamy gives a list of how many species of butterflies and moths are supported by 21 kinds of trees. The numbers are astonishing! He says oak trees (genus Quercus) provide food for some 534 different species of butterflies and moths. Given that those butterflies are important pollinators and parts of the food web, that is an enormous contribution.

Activity:

If you are going to plant a tree for Arbor Day or any other event, consider choosing a local species that will host butterflies. You will get yet another benefit from a tree. Please leave a comment if you have any questions about how to choose a suitable butterfly host tree for your area.

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Wrap-ups:

 This is the final post for Butterfly Gardening with Children Week. Hope you enjoyed it. If you missed the previous posts from the week, check our links page for topics we covered.

butterfly-gardening-with-children

Interested in reading more great books about trees for Arbor Day? Try our giant, redwood-sized list of children's books about trees at Science Books for Kids.

tree-books-button

 

Disclosures: The books above were from my local library. Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon. If you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.