A postscript: I’ve just been sent a press release for a star gazing package at La Samanna in the West Indies. http://www.lasamanna.com/web/omar/packages.jsp What a perfect experience for a honeymoon. La Samanna is one of the Orient Express hotels, so I think you can take it as read that it will be utterly fabulous, even though I haven’t actually been there.
This one is from the archives and aimed mainly at my families, but come to think of it, it would make an amazing date night too. I wrote it for family magazine Jump. Star gazing is so magical at this time of year, especially on November 16th 2013 when the Leonids are in full view all night. And night begins early so now is the best time!
The night sky offers the perfect opportunity to launch a journey of stellar discovery with your child. Fiona Campbell looks to the heavens.
“There is a moon monster and he eats the moon every month,” explains one imaginative young audience member at the Glasgow Science Centre Planetarium, where my five year old son and I are watching a performance of A Starry Story.
‘It’s the perfect place to spark inquisitive young mids, eager to explore the magical, murky realm between fact and fiction that is the cosmos.
“Astronomy is a beautiful and fun entry point to science and a rich tool for bringing a new dimension to children’s sense of reality,’ concurs Dr Carolina Oddman, head of UNAWE, an international charity that uses the wonders of the universe to inspire kids from underprivileged backgrounds.
“Children don’t have to understand difficult concepts to enjoy the universe,” she adds, pointing to the fact that even a simple appreciation of the stars above can help youngsters in very down-to-earth ways – making them feel more connected to their own environment, or in overcoming a fear of the dark, for example.
So, how best to introduce your little one to the joys of the Big Dipper and beyond?
For under fives, the key is to keep things simple. Start with the moon, and very possibly some of the very brightest stars, and ask them questions to fire their curiosity. Why does it get dark at night? What is a star? Encourage them to share their ideas with one another and to let their imagination run wild.
Another great way to get them looking skyward in wonder is to read them any one of the numerous stories inspired by the stars. If the colourful Greek myths that explain the origins of the various constellations don’t grab their attention, then why not turn to Tintin, whose adventures include Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon?
Once your budding astronomer is hooked, it’s time to get them stargazing for real. It’s here that a little homework on your part can go a long way, and a quick visit to the International Year of Astronomy website (astronomy 2009.co.uk) will keep you abreast of forthcoming events and activities that you can get along to, as well as any special celestial happenings that you might want to catch.
You may be tempted to fork out for a super-zoomy telescope, but as Dr Robert Massey of the Royal Astronomical Society points out, when it comes to stargazing gadgetry, less is more, particularly for novices. “Telescopes are vry difficult to use, even for adults,” he explains. “You are better off starting out with a good pair of binoculars fitted to a tripod.”
Dr Oddman, on the other hand, suggests putting a picture of the planet Saturn up on the wall indoors and getting your children to have a look at it. Then get them to look at the picture through a telescope… the first time is always a surprise! Once the kids are used to the telescope, you can take it outside for a spot of moon watching. The Galileoscope (available at galileoscope.org) is a high- quality telescope priced at about £20 including shipping from the US.
Due to light pollution, many city-based kids will have only seen the very brightest of the stars and planets. If your little ones are missing out, then be sure to take advantage of the clear night skies the next time you find yourselves away from the bright lights of the metropolis.
Camping trips in particular afford a fantastic opportunity to sp0t even the most faint of celestial bodies. Alternatively, track down your nearest planetarium for an uninterrupted galactic gander.
Your kids may not be able to go to the moon, but that’s not to say that you can’t bring the moon to your kids. Even the shortest of attention spans wont be able to resist getting to grips with a chunk of genuine moon rock – over 4 billion years old and, well, from outer space! Schools can apply to the Science and Technology Facilities Council (scitech.ac.uk) for a free loan from their priceless collection of lunar lumps, and the Natural History Museum (nhm.ac.uk) also has a selection of rocks available.
– How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffers
– Cosmic! The Ultimate 3-D Guide to the Universe by Giles Sparrow
– Zoo in the Sky, A Book of Animal Constellations by Jacqueline Mitton
– The Glow in the Dark Book of Space by Nicholas Harris
– Children of the Sun by Arthur John L’Hommedieu