Right now, while the sky still gets dark early, is a great time to enjoy looking at the Moon with your small children or grandchildren. Even if you donâ€™t have a telescope or binoculars, there are lots of fun ways that you can both enjoy our mysterious Moon together. Each evening as it gets dark, go outside and take a look at where the Moon is. There are nights when it will be cloudy, so it makes the game even more fun!
Having the Moon in the sky is something that we noticed all our lives, but most of us donâ€™t think very much about it. When was the last time you saw the Moon? What did it look like? If you went outside, where would you find it? By learning to keep a â€œMoon Journalâ€ you will soon learn much more about Earthâ€™s nearest neighbor.
Keeping a Moon Journal is easy. All you need is a pencil and paper, and to understand where the cardinal directions are outside. If you have a compass, thatâ€™s great. But if you do not, remember to watch where the Sun sets. Next you need to choose a place! Look for an area that you can see most of the southern sky. Use your compass to find south or keep your right shoulder to the direction the Sun set. Donâ€™t worry if there are things in the way, because trees, houses and even power wires will help with what weâ€™re going to do. Mark the spot you chose by drawing an X on the pavement with a piece of chalk, or poking a stick into the ground. You must remember to return to this same spot each time.
Now you are ready to begin observing! The most important part about keeping a Moon Journal is to look for the Moon the same time each night. Right now about 8:30 or 9:00 will do very well. Go outside and look for the Moon. Do you see it? Good! Make a very simple picture of where you see the Moon in the sky and be sure to include things like a house or tree in your picture. It doesnâ€™t have to be any more difficult than what you see here. Try your observations for several nights and see if you can learn to predict where the Moon will appear and what it will look like!
Now, letâ€™s experiment with why the Moon has phases. All it takes is a bright flashlight and a ball on a stick. (Even an apple on a fork makes a great Moon, and you can eat it, too!) Whoever is holding the flashlight becomes the Sun and the Earth is your head. If you hold the ball out at armâ€™s length just above the flashlight while facing the Sun, you canâ€™t see it. This is New Moon. The Moon is still in the sky, but we canâ€™t see it because of the bright sunlight. Now keep the ball at armâ€™s length and turn slowly counterclockwise and watch what happens. Thatâ€™s right! You see the ball go through phases, just like our Moon. When your back is towards the Sun, you see the ball as whole, and it will be Full Moon. The Moon will rise on the opposite side of the Earth at the same time the Sun goes down. Keep turning and youâ€™ll see the phases reverse as the Moon moves back towards the Sun again.
Ask your child if he or she has ever seen the Moon during the daytime. Where in the sky do they think the Sun and the Moon needs to be for this to happen? What would happen if the Moon was in front of the Sun? How about the Earth?
Simple experiments like this are a great way to teach children more about astronomy!