As homeschoolers living in the middle of a subarctic boreal forest, outdoor education activities form an important part of our lessons. As I discovered, studying the night sky is a great way to introduce your kids to an outdoor learning activity.
With just a few simple tools and some imagination, the kids love our night sky lessons.
The night sky is not only beautiful - it's also educational and one of our favorite outdoor education activities. And by learning about the constellations and planets, kids explore concepts in science, history, and outdoor maths.
Stargazing is also a great way to bond with your children in an outdoor classroom as you share the wonder of the universe and enjoy outdoor learning activities as a family.
Here are ten outdoor education activities and ideas for enjoying the fresh air and the night sky together.
Night Skies: 10 Outdoor Education Activities for Elementary Students
Learn About Light Pollution
Find a dark spot away from city lights. The best place to see stars is in a dark area with little light pollution. If you live in the city, try driving out to a nearby park or lake - natural areas are best. If not, a field trip to a parking lot also works.
Depending on your homeschooler's grade level, try exploring the concept of light pollution a bit further. Try looking at the night sky from different locations on the same night. Notice how many stars you can see from different locations.
Note: We live at about 62 degrees North, and about a 40-minute drive from the closest small city. We don't have light pollution at our home. What we do have is the Aurora Borealis! Check our Instagram feed for pics of the Northern Lights from about August through April.
Find the North Star
The North Star, also called Polaris, is easy to find. Try locating it first as it is one of the best markers for finding other constellations. Look for the Big Dipper, then follow the two stars at the end of the “cup” until you reach Polaris.
Your children may recognize the North Star from Bible references, as well as literature. For centuries, sailors used it to help navigate the oceans. In the Northern Hemisphere, Polaris is always visible and appears to stay in the same spot while the other stars rotate around it.
Tip: Locate the North Star as part of your nature lessons then tie it into your literature, history, or Bible studies.
Use a Star Chart
Use a star chart as a simple way to locate constellations in the night sky. To use one, you hold up the chart to the night sky and align certain stars on the chart with their real counterparts.
As you line up the chart, you'll be able to identify many of the stars you see. Give your younger kids a little time to identify new sight words while older students
Tip: Want a fun outdoor activity for young people from preschoolers through high school ages? Recreate the constellations with sidewalk chalk! Use different colors to show the different stars.
Look for Shooting Stars
Shooting stars are meteors - pieces of space rock that burn up as they enter Earth’s atmosphere. Meteor showers happen throughout the year, but some are more active than others.
The best time to see shooting stars is during a meteor shower, but you can look for them any time there are clear skies.
The Perseid meteor shower is one of the best and occurs each summer, and a good opportunity to encourage younger students to get out and enjoy the natural world at night.
Find the International Space Station
The International Space Station (ISS) is a spacecraft that orbits Earth, and it's visible to the naked eye. In fact, look for it right from your own backyard.
To find it, start by checking this website to see when it will be visible in your location.
When you know when to look, go outside and look up at the sky at the time specified. The ISS looks like a bright star moving across the sky. It's often brighter than any of the stars around it.
Tip: Our favorite subscription box for kids, Think Outside Boxes, (affiliate link) has an incredible Night Box including star charts, educational resource cards, glow-in-the dark carabiner, and more. Use our code THINK10 at the above link to save $10 off your first box or use CART15 to save $15 off your subscription!
Find Some Constellations
Constellations are groups of stars that form patterns in the sky. There are 88 constellations, and many of them are easy to find. Some popular ones include Orion, Scorpius, and Ursa Major.
Constellations have been used for centuries to help people find their way around the night sky. Many have interesting stories associated with them.
For example, the constellation Orion is named after a hunter in Greek mythology. Literature is full of references to constellations.
Studying the constellations offers a unique opportunity for elementary school-aged children to learn new words. And older kids can explore astronomy as a part of a real-world outdoor education program.
Learn about the Moon
The moon is the closest celestial body to Earth, making it an easy target for telescopes and binoculars. It has a strong impact on life on Earth tremendously, as it controls the tides and governs our natural rhythms. And that's why it's often included in environmental education unit studies in middle schools and elementary schools.
In addition to the various phases, we use our telescope to find interesting features on the moon's surface such as craters, mountains, and valleys.
Visit a Planetarium
Learn about the night sky by visiting a planetarium. They often offer lesson ideas and shows that use special projectors to recreate the night sky on a dome-shaped ceiling.
Planetariums offer a great opportunity to see stars and constellations that would otherwise be difficult to find. It's also a fun way to learn about different astronomy-related science concepts.
The subject area experts who work at planetariums are usually more than happy to answer any questions you have.
Note: visiting a planetarium is on our bucket list for our next trip down south!
Go on a Night Hike
Looking for a new summer break activity? A night hike is a great way to experience the night sky in all its glory. Make sure you bring a flashlight and some snacks. It's also a good idea to let someone know where you're going and when you'll be back.
Night hikes are especially fun in the summer when the weather is warm and the days are long.
Use a Telescope
Get a closer look at the night sky by using a telescope. You'll find many different types of telescopes available to fit your homeschool budget and needs.
If you're just starting out, it's a good idea to buy a small telescope or even a pair of binoculars. These will be enough to get started and see some of the most interesting features in the night sky.
Attend a Star Party
Star parties are events where people get together to look at the night sky. They're usually hosted by astronomy clubs or planetariums.
If you attend a star party, you could get the opportunity use some of the best telescopes and meet other people who share your interest in astronomy.
Whether you live in the city or out in the country, finding a dark spot away from lights will make it easier to see stars. And remember, you don’t need any special equipment to get started – just look up and scan the sky slowly from one side to the other.