Planetarium vs. the Night Sky with Toddlers

One thing I learned on my recent road trip was that I need to get my kids out to look at the real night sky more. Since they’re only 19 months and soon-to-be-3, getting them out to look at the real night sky means keeping them up way past bedtime. Plus, being in a city, we’d have to drive a ways in order to get away from light pollution and to get any really good look at the sky. On our trip, we were in a small town in southwest North Dakota, and the skies are clear and dark. Travels messed with sleep schedules anyway, so I kept them up late one night and we went out to look at stars. I held Astronomonster #1, pointed to the stars and said, “Look up!” He looked up and said, “Planetarium!” “Um, no, dear, that’s the real night sky. Real stars outside.” “Stars!”

Since we don’t get too many stars shining through in the city (nothing like we saw out in the country), I did get him to identify the planets correctly when we would walk in the evenings this spring (Venus! Jupiter!), since they would be the few bright objects shining through in the evening sky. He’s also really good at spotting the Moon, even as a thin crescent. However, he doesn’t get to see that many stars in the city unless we’re in the planetarium, so I can understand the confusion. He sure does love the planetarium, though. After I took him there for the May 20 eclipse-viewing, he said, “Planetarium?” anytime we were preparing to go somewhere, or getting in the car, or driving in the car. This has lessened somewhat, so it’s no longer every time, but now and again his 2-year-old-voice chimes in, optimistically, “Planetarium?” It’s hard to resist.

Speaking of light pollution, there is a children’s picture book about the night sky and light pollution called “There Once Was A Sky Full Of Stars” by Bob Crelin. The book seems unavailable to buy new at present, but you can find used ones online. You can also view a video version of it on illustrator Amie Ziner’s Facebook page. The DVD version appears to be available to order through Crelin’s web site if you e-mail him for more information. It’s a nicely done rhyming story explaining why we don’t see many stars in the night sky in urban areas. The illustrations are lovely too.

In the planetarium I sometimes start with some light pollution up to drown out some fainter stars, and when we’ve found the Big Dipper and are ready to find the Little Dipper I tell them we have to go out to the country away from city lights where it is nice and dark, because the Little Dipper has some faint stars. When all the stars are revealed, kids collectively say, “Wow!” and exclaim over the number of stars and the number of stars and the Milky Way.

This weekend is a great time to take kids out away from city lights to look at the night sky, since the Perseid meteor shower peaks in the wee morning hours of August 12. Show them a sky full of stars, the Milky Way, and meteors—OUTSIDE, and not in a planetarium. Now, someone please make sure the clouds are out of the way this weekend, okay? Okay. 🙂

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2 Responses to Planetarium vs. the Night Sky with Toddlers

  1. godmadeknown says:

    Something about pulling little kids out of bed to go look at the stars goes absolutely contrary to my proper parenting instincts but once I had actually done it a few times I concluded there are definitely more important things in life than uninterrupted sleep. Star gazing with little ones is one of those things and I’ve come to cherish those moments.

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