Getting Children to Love Stargazing
With video games, social media, and so much to watch on YouTube nowadays, sometimes it may seem difficult to pull kids away from electronics to do something nature related. We understand. We have kids too.
In this article, I’m going to show you different ways to get your children interested in other kinds of bright, shiny objects to look at: stars. Well, not just stars, but so much more in the night sky. Hopefully, you’ll find some useful tips to help you create a passion for stargazing with your kids and inspire them to become lifelong learners of our amazing universe!
Find a Dark Location
It all starts with a dark location.
If you really want to get your kids into stargazing, take them to a place with lots of stars. I suggest going somewhere that is a Bortle 5 classification or darker. The lower the Bortle number, the better. This way you’ll be sure to show them a good amount of stars and they might even have a chance of observing some of the Milky Way core. Kids will also enjoy being able to spot some distant galaxies as well at this level of light pollution. Just use our stargazing campground map to see some places near you that might work.
As a teacher with over 20 years experience, one of my favorite things to do each spring is when I get to take kids to science camp. The activities in the day are great, but I really love it when my students get to go outside and observe the stars under dark skies. Many of them have never been out of their Bortle 7 or brighter suburban neighborhoods at night, so their minds are blown when they get to experience Bortle 4 skies at camp. I’ve found they are even more interested in space lessons at school once they have truly experienced the stars and not just seen them on paper or through a computer model.
This is why I recommend you take your own kids somewhere with lots of stars first. If it’s dark enough, they will even be able to see the core of the Milky Way if the season is right. If the skies are dark enough, this experience can really get them excited about the night sky.
Understand the Moon
In the same realm as stargazing is moon gazing. Without actually going somewhere dark, you can inspire your child to enjoy astronomy by studying the Moon.
One positive thing about the Moon is that it is usually pretty easy to see from just about everywhere, so you can get your child excited about space from even the most light polluted spots on Earth. You don’t even need a telescope or some binoculars to have fun learning about the Moon (even if they do make the experience far more enjoyable).
If you do decide to purchase a telescope or binoculars, you’ll be able to go much deeper into the hobby of stargazing, especially when it comes to the Moon. It’s always exciting to see a child light up as they discover a new physical feature on the Moon. Whether it’s the relatively flat Sea of Tranquility or the mountainous Montes Apenninus, kids can really get excited over feeling like they have learned something new when using specialized tools like a telescope or binoculars.
Knowing lunar phases is a skill that is taught in most public schools and is easy to learn no matter your child’s age. Comprehending the Moon’s phases can help your child better understand the patterns and motion of different objects in the sky, and it’s something you can do as a parent without having to have an astrophysics degree. I might link an article and activity here once I get more time.
With some of my classes over the years, I’ve used a moon phase journal to help them keep track of the moon phases. Does it help to get them excited about the Moon? Sometimes. It’s pretty easy homework for most kids, so at least they enjoy that aspect, and it gets parents involved in learning about the night sky. I call that a win.
It’s a great idea if you are also getting started with your child and you want to grow your own understanding of the Moon. I highly suggest you give it a try if you don’t quite understand how the moon phases work. You’ll both be pros in no time.
Know Major Celestial Objects
It’s not just the Moon that is great for kids to know about, it’s everything else in the night sky. From planets to and major stars and constellations, finding the location of each can be fun for a kid the first few times they are stargazing. When kids learn that not all the “stars” they see are actually stars but some are planets like Venus, Mars, or Jupiter, it’s pretty fun to watch.
This is a great conversation to have at a young age, and it even lets you dive deep into having them understand the movement of different objects and how it all fits together in our Milky Way Galaxy and the universe as a whole.
As you learn the major objects in the sky, you can even expand into learning the different Messier objects. Some of these you might already be a little familiar with such as the Orion Nebula (M42) just below the very recognizable Orion’s belt. Check out our list on Messier objects
On that note, it can also be fun to teach your child some of the stories about the night sky that have been passed down for generations from different cultures like the myths associated with Orion. So many planets, major stars, and constellations have legends to learn about that can lead into interesting discussions about the history of those that came before us. From Hercules and his battle with a giant crab to Poseidon’s flying horse Pegasus, there is bound to be a cool story your child will be fascinated by.
Observe Meteor Showers and Comets
Occasional and rare events are also a fun way to excite kids and make them want to stargaze more often. Each year, we plan trips specifically around different meteor showers and if a comet is visible. This makes astronomy even more interesting to our kids. Let’s just say being able to see these things kind of gives them a unique view of things other people might never see.
Staying out late at night to see meteor showers like the Perseids, Geminids, and Quadrantids, can be an awesome experience for children. These events are probably the most exciting thing for most kids to see in the night sky without any special equipment since they are some of the most active looking celestial events. But, they do require patience to see. We realized when our kids first got to observe some shooting stars, they were thrilled! Who wouldn’t want to see a bright flash of light from a burning up piece of space debris?
Don’t forget comets too. Rare events like these big ice balls of ice, rock, and dust don’t come around too often to see. So, make sure to give your child the chance to observe this rare celestial object by using a telescope or pair of binoculars when one comes into view.
One pretty memorable comet our kids were able to see without any special tools was Neowise. It was clearly visible from two different campgrounds in two different states with just our naked eyes, and it was one of the most amazing recent comets we have experienced as a family. Staying out late on top of a mountain at Davis Mountains State Park in Texas and at the edge of a canyon at Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah to see a comet can really be inspiring. Consider them core memories for a kid.
Use a Stargazing App
Maybe you don’t know too many stars or all of the constellations to feel comfortable teaching your child. Then, just use an app!
I have found the vast majority of kids love technology. So anytime they can use a phone to find a star, planet, or constellation, they’ll be happy.
Our own kids really used to love grabbing our phones when they were young to see what they were looking at in the night sky. Now, they just use their own phones. Man, times have changed.
Depending on how dark the night sky is where you are stargazing will help determine if what you see when looking up. If it doesn’t look as good as what you see in the app, don’t get discouraged and think about going somewhere darker next time to see more. The app is just a tool to get your child interested in the stars.
Also, I am working on an article for all the best free stargazing apps for Android you should check out. I take a thorough look at all of the reasonably rated apps available and have been even using many regularly for years.
Make Kids Comfortable
Anybody that has kids knows that if they aren’t comfortable, they won’t want to do something for very long. This is obviously true for stargazing too. So, plan ahead when the time comes to sit out.
These are some of the items you might want to bring when taking your kids outside to enjoy the night sky:
Bring Chairs or Blankets
Speaking of sitting out, think about what you might want to sit on when planning your stargazing adventure. Are you more a blanket, chairs, or bed of the truck family? We typically use chairs.
It’s nice to just sit back and relax at the campsite with some comfortable chairs. Don’t get me wrong, blankets are a great option too, and throwing one down in a grassy field to just sit around can be really nice. We just like sitting by the fire in chairs when we stargaze.
Also, if you have a truck, it’s always a good option to throw some blankets in the back and enjoy the sky listening to music as a family.
Pick Tasty Food and Drinks
Make sure to bring food your child actually enjoys when stargazing. We know from experience exactly how picky our kids can be when it comes to food, so we make sure to bring snacks and other tasty treats that are guaranteed to be a hit. Typically, it’ll be something sweet like a special dessert or some sort of chips or other junk food they don’t eat all the time.
Making space themed food is fun too if it’s your first time taking your kids stargazing. Here are a few ideas that might be a good idea to try:
Blast off Brownies
Martian Rice Krispie Treats
Milky Way Crunch ‘n Munch
Also, if you can get your hands on some astronaut ice cream or some of the other similar dehydrated food that is sweet, definitely to that. Our kids like Neapolitan ice cream the most (and frankly, so do I). It’s just a fun change of pace from the normal snacks, and it can lead into interesting conversations about how astronauts live and work in space.
Beverages are obviously also a must for kids. First off, make sure you have water. I know that’s obvious, but I just wanted to remind you before thinking of the good stuff to bring.
If it’s cold outside at night, bring something to warm your kids up. Hot cocoa is always a good choice. Of course, it can be themed too like you just did with the food. Be creative and add ingredients to your drinks.
Too bad Coca-Cola Starlight was only created as a limited release because that soda was actually really good! And, it fits the whole stargazing vibe.
I think you get the point. Be creative with your junk food and give it a cool name.
Try Space Themed Games
Whether it be digital or a board game, playing space related games is also a great way to get your kids interested in space and astronomy. Once they are hooked, it’s much easier to convince them to spend time looking at things in the real-world. From everything from the awesome Twilight Imperium to classic Cosmic Encounter, space board games come in all different levels for kids of all ages. As a family that plays board games at least every other week at a minimum, it’s always fun to reconnect playing games together, especially when it’s about our passion for space.
Maybe board games aren’t your style. Then, try a space video game.
I know there are tons of space video games out there on all kinds of platforms, but I’m going to share one that’s both educational and fun. Our oldest son absolutely loved this game a couple of years ago: Kerbal Space Program. Basically, it’s a build your own alien rocket program that allows you to research new parts for the rocket and test those parts. Then, you can explore the solar system of the aliens in the game.
This opens up lots of great discussion with your kids when stargazing and also talking about physics in an enjoyable way.
Remember the Bug Spray
We have found that a good chunk of the times we are stargazing with our kids, bug spray is a must. We don’t alway use it, but it’s good to have on hand especially when the sun starts going down and the bloodsuckers start to come out.
Some people swear by all-natural mosquito spray, but we don’t usually have too much luck with it. So, we normally just use brands with DEET in them. We know it works. Of course you should do what you feel is best for your family, so do your research when choosing what product you want to spray on your kids. Whatever you pick, just make sure to bring bug spray so your night isn’t potentially ruined.
Bring Clothes Based on the Weather
Whenever we spend time outside stargazing, we always make sure to have lots of layers on hand for our kids. When our boys aren’t running around at night, they tend to get cold. So, we make sure to pack enough to make it through the evening.
As you probably already know, the longer at night you stay out, the colder it typically gets. Sometimes, we have been outside stargazing for several hours, and the temperature dropped 30 to 40 degrees by the time our nighttime fun was over. Having a sweater, a jacket, and a hat for our kids has always been on our list when staying outside.
Remember to plan for the weather and pack accordingly.
Use a Telescope or Binoculars
I know I mentioned this a few times throughout the article, but if you really want your kids to get into stargazing, you might want to invest in a telescope or some binoculars. You don’t have to spend a fortune, just get something. Even think about looking on eBay for something used. Just get something.
A telescope or some binoculars will up your stargazing game a bunch. Being able to look at all the features of the Moon or a closer view of the Andromeda Galaxy can get your child even more interested in the hobby. Once your child has grown out of a cheap telescope, you can work your way to something a little more pricey if you know they’ll stick with it.
Get Them Excited at Home
Over the years, we have had a bunch of different things in our home to keep our kids fascinated with space and stargazing. As little kids, they always had space books mixed in with other books on each of their bookshelves.
The bedroom of our oldest son’s room was completely decked out in a space theme. One Christmas, he requested space bed sheets, a comforter, and blinds. Another year, he asked for a space themed ceiling fan with a rocket ship painted on it. Sometime later, he requested space decals for his wall.
He was obviously really into the hobby of space and stargazing.
Our youngest son had plenty of puzzles and coloring books related to space, but wanted to go a different direction with his room decor. He still enjoyed space, but was nowhere near the same level as our oldest with his completely immersive passion.
Both kids had a turtle star projector they loved when they were younger and have even talked about possibly asking us about getting them a good planetarium for their rooms one year. They also were big fans of their Moon nightlights when they were younger.
As you can probably see, getting your child into the hobby through decorations and other items is another good way to build that passion for the stars and get them to really love stargazing. They feel the stars all around them everyday and it kind of just becomes part of them.
Read Space Books or Watch Videos Together
I have found that books and videos are also an easy way to get kids into space and stargazing.
At my school’s library, we have a nice amount of books available on different space topics. I regularly see my students and kids in other grade levels check out books on different planets, comets, meteors, astronauts, and so on. This makes me happy. It’s good to know books and teachers can still inspire kids to learn more about space.
As a parent, you can use the books and lessons they learned at school to get your child to want to stargaze. Think about checking out more books from the local library or find out what they learned in school and treat them to a new space book. Then, head out to a dark sky location to show them how amazing space really can be.
Also, try watching together some YouTube channels, National Geographic, or the Discovery Channel if books don’t inspire your kids. The goal is to create lifelong learners that are really into space, so try a different avenue and ease them into books after working through some videos. There is a wealth of fascinating information in video form available for free or through paid subscriptions, so do your due diligence. You might also be surprised to know that kids are still enjoying classic Bill Nye videos posted on YouTube, so give those a shot also.
We hope this article gave you enough ideas on how to stargaze with your kids. With the right direction, you can rest assured your children will learn to appreciate the night sky.
Please check out more of Alison and my stargazing articles on this website if you would like to learn more about this amazing hobby.
About the Authors
We are avid stargazers Jason and Alison Takacs also known as “Roadtrippin’ with Takacs”. With our two boys Preston and Grayson, we seek out some of the darkest skies in the country while also going on many incredible hiking and other outdoor adventures. As part-time RVers, we try to see as much of this amazing world as possible in our spare time and hope you will join us through this blog and other forms of social media as we explore the night sky and other natural wonders as hardcore astrotourists.