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Teaching Your Child Astronomy: Phases of the Moon

Updated on June 29, 2013
Crescent Moon
Crescent Moon | Source

This year I thought I would get out and enjoy the night sky with my daughters. The most obvious place to start seemed to be the moon. I thought I could start with a little teaching during the day followed by observations at night. The night time observations will make the daytime lessons more exciting and allow for plenty of review time. It will take about a month to observe all the phases of the moon with your child.

When planning your lessons it will be helpful to know either the current phase of the moon or consult a moon calendar to plan future viewing.

Day One: Basic Introduction and Demonstration of the Phases of the Moon

Begin with a lesson in which you explain that the moon is not a star and does not produce light. The light from the moon is actually the suns reflected light. Moreover, the same amount (half) of the moon is always lite. Why then does it appear to change size and shape? As the moon moves about the earth we, on earth, see different portions of the lighted side of the moon.

This can then be demonstrated by having one child stand in the middle of a circle as "earth". Another child will hold a ball, the "moon", and walk it's rotation about the earth. Shine a flashlight on the ball to represent the sun. Allow each child to have a turn as the "earth".

The Woodlands Junior School has some succinct answers to potential questions from your children as well as a good visual of the phases of the moon from both the Southern and Northern Hemispheres. They also mention the fun fact that the crescent moon appears like a smile to those living on the equator.


Day Two: Review the Basics and Child Lead Demonstration of the Phases of the Moon

On our second science day I will show my girls an animated interactive video from Wonderville, which will review the basics as well as allowing them to move the position of the moon around the earth until they have found all eight phases of the moon. The video also includes a fun myth about the creation of the moon.

Or if you are pressed for time Children's University of Manchester has a short animated video of the phases of the moon followed by a four question quiz.

Day Three: How Many Full Moons are in a Year? with Art Project

On our third science day I thought we would do a little art. Enchanted Learning, aside from give a brief description of the phases of the moon also includes a little of the names of all the full moons. (It also includes the definition for a Blue Moon, which I found fascinating.)

We will begin by talking about how a lunar month is approximately 29 days. This means that a calendar month is about one to two days longer than a lunar month (depending upon the month). Thus a blue moon (two full moons in a single month) occurs every two to three years. Thus we have 12 to 13 full moons every year.

We will then make a poster of the full moons. The following supplies will be needed:

  1. A large poster
  2. 13 white circles
  3. Pictures of a wolf, a snowflake, a crow, an egg, milk, a rose, hay, corn colored green, a harvest (or fruit), a hunter, a beaver, a Yule log
  4. Crayons or markers
  5. Glue

If you wish decorate your poster board like a night sky. Label your poster "A Year of Full Moons". Paste your 13 moons onto the board setting the thirteenth off to one side. Label each of your first 12 moons with the month and if you wish the name. Label the last moon "Blue Moon". Add the corresponding pictures to each of your first 12 moons and color your last moon blue. Your poster of full moons is complete as soon as the glue dries.

Day Four: Edible Phases of the Moon

I have seen this final project posted several places on the Internet most recently on the Chandler School page. It is the Oreo Moon Phases project. You will need - you guessed it, Oreos. Eight Oreos per child with the top cookie removed and a plastic spoon. (The children are less likely to break the cookies with a plastic spoon.)

Dress up the project by providing each child with a napkin with the Earth pictured in the middle. Have the children arrange their eight cookies around the Earth. Then using their spoons the children can scrape off as much of their "moon" as necessary to create the different phases.

Make sure you get a picture of their project before they gobble it up!

Further Study

If your children enjoyed their lessons in astronomy consider visiting the Kids' Astronomy page. They have a feature which shows what to look for in the sky tonight. There are also free astronomy courses for 7 to 12 year olds and 13 to 18 year olds. The two courses include 8 packets with either 32 or 48 assignments respectively. The packets are designed to be completed once per week. Moreover after completion of the eight packets, a final project and a final quiz your child will receive a certificate of completion.

I hope you enjoy looking at the night sky with your children!

Phases of the Moon Song

Phases of the Moon

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