The moon is something in space that the kids can actually see, which makes this lesson all the more interesting for them. I remember being fascinated that there was something in the night sky that was so gigantic yet so close to the earth that we could even travel there. Like so many children I dreamed of traveling there and putting my own flag right next to the one Niel Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin placed so many years ago.
By the end of this lesson, your kids will have taken in so much amazing information and enjoyed so many activities about the moon that, who knows, maybe even they will want to go there one day! Thanks to companies like Space X, this may be possible sooner than we think.
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Probably the most famous children’s book about the moon in history, Goodnight Moon is a great book to start with when introducing this topic to our little ones. It’s a classic with wonderful drawings and poetic language.
This book, If you decide to go to the moon, is full of lovely illustrations by renown artist Steven Kellog takes your child on a wonderful journey. Its subtle subtext portrays the life we live and seeks to guide children through difficult decisions and overcome adversity.
The Moon Book is the first science-based book for kids which goes into many of the facts, characteristics, and effects the moon has on Earth. It is for the older child (5 to 8 years old) who is curious about this amazing astronomical body.
What is the moon?
Breaking out the telescope is the ideal way to start this lesson. The moon is just a big rock which, like the Earth, was leftover from the debris which formed our solar system at its birth. Technically it’s considered a natural satellite and is the 5th biggest moon in our solar system. Being so large, about one quarter the size of the Earth, it has a big effect on us and may even be the reason why life is possible on this planet.
Since the moon revolves around the Earth and the same side always seems visible to us. However, the moon goes through many phases during its 28-day cycle based on the position it holds in its orbit of the earth and its relationship to the sun.
The bright side is lit by the sun and the dark is the shadow of the Earth. At times it shines brightly in its entirety and others only a small sliver appears.
Using a felt mat to learn the phases
At the beginning of the lesson, it’s a good idea to lay the felt mat in a nice comfortable area, like a table or on a rug on the floor. Set up all the felt pieces to the side and, using the control chart place the pieces on the engraved shapes of the mat. The arrows on the chart indicate which direction the moon revolves around the Earth.
As we did with the order of the planets, when we set down a moon piece we say the name of the phase. For example: “This is the waxing crescent”. Starting with the new moon, work in a counter-clockwise motion. A felt sun placed to the right of the mat helps show how the shadow from the Earth is formed on the moon.
Explain that waxing means that the bright part of the moon is growing in size until it reaches the full moon phase. From here the bright side becomes smaller, or wanes. Thus, the waning phases of the moon begin.
This may take some time for the little ones to grasp, so I suggest modeling the first half of the board for them. Once they are able to master the phases themselves, have them practice the whole board at once on their own.
Learning the phases of the moon with the 3-part cards
Here we have a couple of options for integrating the 3-part cards into the lesson, depending on the level of your child’s development. If they are younger (3 to 5yo), go through the whole process which is described in the 3-part cards article. Or, if they are older, you can start with them laying the cards next to the phases on the mat by matching the control and name cards to the felt piece (instead of the object card).
Other moon phase figures can be used in place of the felt pieces as well. Some 3D printed models have excellent opportunities to work with shadows using a flashlight in a darkened room. It’s a very visual and active technique.
An eclipse is an astronomical event that can be very enticing for kids. The cool thing is you can find out when one will happen, mark them on your calendar and let the anticipation grow!
A lunar eclipse occurs when the shadow of the earth blocks the sun from shining off the face of the moon. According to space.com, there are three types of lunar eclipses: total, partial and penumbral. A total lunar eclipse is exciting as the Earth’s shadow covers the entire surface of the moon.
Why do I see the moon during the day?
Have you ever wondered why the most brilliant object in the night sky is sometimes visible during the day? It’s a strange phenomenon, which has puzzled many a stargazer.
The moon is a very large luminous object, which orbits the Earth and is only visible in certain phases of its cycle. But surprisingly, it can be seen nearly every day except when it’s a new or full moon. It also needs to be just above the horizon. Only then is it bright enough that you can even see it during the day.
More resources and fun stuff
A night light is essential for many kids to keep the monsters from under the bed from creeping out. This fun moon night light will keep them calm and give them the opportunity to gaze at the moon, even when it’s a cloudy night.
This moonlight takes night lights to a whole new level. It’s remote-controlled and can show the 12 main phases of the lunar cycles, perfect for refreshing the phases they learned with the 3-part cards. For an astronomy-loving kid this is a must!
This perpetual calendar is a nice alternative to the felt map if you’re looking for a material that has more activities involved in it. It has the phases of the moon, a weather tracker, and a seasons chart. Set it up against something steady so the kids don’t knock it over while spinning the directional hand.
With so many great resources exploring the wonders of the moon has never been as much fun and challenging as it is today. I hope these factoids and materials will help your child satisfy some curiosity and maybe even inspire them to delve deeper into the topic of astronomy. The era of commercial space travel is just around the corner and getting the kids of today prepared for the future will get us back to the moon even faster.