How to Get Your Children Interested in Astronomy

Giving your children an interest in astronomy will provide a lifetime of pleasure and satisfaction, a sense of wonder at the universe, a potentially lifelong hobby, as well as a possible professional career for them in later years!Before you give them binoculars or buy them a telescope or a hand held planetarium, get your kids outside on a clear night to look at the stars in the way humans have always done – with their eyes. Naked eye astronomy is the way to begin learning about the heavens. That’s because, apart from the moon, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and a few other night sky objects like the Pleiades, looking at something through binoculars or a telescope can be difficult and disappointing. The star which is a tiny point of light in the sky will remain a tiny point of light when magnified. Even holding binoculars steady enough for viewing is likely to be challenging for smaller children anyway.It’s much better to get children inspired about the night sky by having them learning about and watching the phases of the moon, or the shapes of the brighter constellations, without using instruments.Of course,

if you are hazy about things like the names of the constellations yourself you will be setting out on a voyage of discovery with your kids as well! There are many great software programs available which will display the currently visible night sky on your computer, or you can check the constellations in the charts in any good astronomy guidebook. Then you can pass on your knowledge when stargazing.Another recommendation before venturing out in the dark – dress your kids warmly, make them wear hats, and don’t try to do too much on the first night. Whether you stargaze in your yard, in the local park, or have to drive outside the city to get away from the artificial light and streetlights and get a clear view of the stars, don’t let your kids get too cold. I know from bitter experience that this will make it harder to get them out the next time.You can also be very clever about your first night sky adventure by choosing to go out when there are likely to be meteor showers. Consult a guidebook or an online web site to find out when and from which area of the sky the next meteor shower will come,

and get your kids out to see it. This is exciting for kids as well as adults, and you can compete to see who can count the most.If you live in higher latitudes, auroras (the northern or southern lights) are another spectacular night sky event: I have even roused my children from their beds to see a good one, and I’m sure they will thank me for it when they are older!Spotting planets is another fine game, and the kids will soon be adept at pointing out Venus or Jupiter at dusk, given a clear sky.As always with education, the secret is with reinforcement – if you mention the blue color of Rigel or the red color of Betelgeuse one night, ask the kids if they can remember the name of the red or blue stars in Orion the next time you go out. If you have been working on why the moon has phases, get them to experiment with a tennis ball and a flashlight. One method: place a flashlight (representing the sun) on a chair pointing at the child who then turns while they hold the tennis ball at arm’s length to simulate the moon circling the earth.Ways to teach about the night sky are limited only by your imagination, and when your kids have grasped the basics, you can then think about a telescope, and mastering that. At that point, the universe will really open up for parent and child.

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Dallas and the Museum of Nature & Science

The Museum of Nature & Science houses the only public planetarium in Dallas County. The Science Place Planetarium, as it’s known to some is located in the Science Place Building 2 at 1318 Second Avenue Dallas, Texas. It’s a sort of hands-on museum with displays for kids that they can actually touch and sometimes, manipulate. Officially, the Science Place merged with the Dallas Museum of Natural History in 2006 to form a single institution called the Dallas Museum of Nature and Science. The main part of the Science Place is located in the middle of the Park, contiguous to the old Museum of Natural History, but the planetarium has its own building on the south end of the park. Dallas’ most-visited cultural institution, this museum brings nature and science alive for discoverers of all ages. Interactive exhibits, special kid programs, a school and summer camp, a brand new Children’s Museum and even IMAX movies have all been integrated in the museums line-up of activities.The planetarium itself is near the Aquarium, and shares space with the radio station, WFF, and a series of Project Head Start classrooms which is one of the good things about the planetarium. Being a part of the Science Place, its main goal is to provide education to kids. It has lots of simple- to-understand but interesting exhibits dotting the building, including one display where you can check what your weight and age will be on all the major planets, using special calculators attached to the wall. They’ve also got a variety of other displays, which many kids will find cool. Topping this array is a practice spacesuit from NASA and the only meteorite known to have fallen in Dallas County. The planetarium room itself is small with seats for only 20 people at a time. The seats are tilted back toward the ceiling for easy viewing. It is comfortable and cool inside with a white domed ceiling. They have a pool of half a dozen shows. This includes “Wonders of the Universe,” and takes you from the creation of the universe up to today in just 20 minutes. They have a line-up of fascinating and well executed documentaries.The Museum is also home to a Dental Gallery, a Tenet Rescue Unit, Hands-On Physics, Kids Place Playground, and Electric Theater. Kids will surely be mesmerized by the different hands-on activities the place offers. The Dental Gallery has an entrance resembling a big mouth and a Toothbot named Tony, which is a mechanical molar that teaches about dental hygiene, among other things. The Hands-On-Physics has more than 75 areas to learn about physics and math including rolling balls, shifting weights and moving platforms. The Electric Theater demonstrates major electricity discoveries, cryogenics, lasers, chemistry and astronomy. A hip place for learning science.

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