How to Plan Summer Stargazing Adventures with Kids
Sometimes the best mini-adventures are as close as your own backyard; You just have to look up. This is the perfect time to plan summer stargazing nights with your kids. Most of these after-dark activities require just a little prep time and a few items you can easily find around the house.
To pick the best time to teach kids how to appreciate all the magic of the night sky, check the overnight weather forecast and select an evening that will have mostly clear skies. You’ll want to avoid nights when the moon is full or nearly full, as it will make the sky too bright for good star viewing. For very young children, you can start your adventure an hour after sunset, or even in deepening twilight so kids can watch as the first stars become visible. For older children or teens, plan to go outside a couple hours after sunset when the sky is very dark.
Here are some tips to make your stargazing a real memory-making adventure:
Get comfortable. If you’re going to be outside for more than a few minutes, give your group a way to get comfortable. Camp chairs set up in the backyard will work, and chairs that recline are even better for sky-watching. Some kids may prefer to spread old sheets, blankets or quilts out on the grass. To get really fancy, blow up air mattresses or even pool rafts, get cozy with blankets and pillows and settle in for the star show.
Pick out the constellations. When teaching kids the constellations, start with the basics that will be easy for them to learn to pick out on their own. Children love finding Ursa Major (the Big Dipper) and Ursa Minor (the Little Dipper). Once they learn those, show them how to find some of the summer-sky favorites, like Cygnus the Swan.
There’s an app for that. Need a refresher on the constellations? There are several apps you can put on your phone that allow you to scan it across the sky and they will pick out the constellations for you. Try SkyView, Google Sky or SkySafari.
Stories behind the stars. The sky overhead is full of stories. For centuries, the Earth’s early people and, more recently, Native American cultures created stories that mapped out the sky and correlated with the constellations. This star lore is the ultimate kind of campfire story, and can be tailored to any age group. To get started, check Legends in the Sky – Constellation Tales from Around the World.
Picking a location. The best places to stargaze are spots that are dark and away from all city lights and streetlights. If you have a dark yard, that’s a great start. If not, consider moving your outing to an area out in the country and away from artificial lights. Michigan has dark sky preserves in six state parks and two internationally-designated dark sky parks. Want a dark-sky-park adventure? Make a camping reservation at one of these state parks:
- Lake Hudson Recreation Area (Lenawee County)
- Negwegon State Park (Alcona County)
- Port Crescent State Park (Huron County)
- Rockport Recreation Area (Presque Isle County)
- Thompson’s Harbor State Park (Presque Isle County)
- Wilderness State Park (Emmet County)
Internationally-designated dark sky parks
- Headlands Dark Sky Park (Emmet County park)
- Dr. T.K. Lawless Park (Cass County park)
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