Make August 21st Memorable for You and Your Child: Solar Eclipses

Being the nerd that I am, I am so excited for August 21st! Starting at 10:15 am (PDT) in Oregon, the US will get to see something that we haven’t seen since 1918. The path of a total solar eclipse will pass right through the states, starting in Oregon and ending in South Carolina. Only the areas that fall in the middle of the eclipse’s path will be able to see the moon completely cover the sun. But anyone will be able to see at least a partial eclipse from anywhere in the states. (just a reminder, looking at an eclipse that is not in totality can damage your eyes. Use special eclipse glasses or an eclipse viewer like the one I describe below). If you are one of the lucky ones to live in (or will be traveling to) an area where the eclipse will reach totality, you will be able to see the corona, the sun’s outer atmosphere. This is the only time the corona can be seen from earth because the sun’s light usually outshines it.

Because this is such a rare opportunity, I want to make sure my preschooler gets to see it and that he has an idea of what is happening. So, I went searching for fun teaching tools. Here are my three favorites! I have put together a science kit that has all of the supplies you need to do these three activities. You can find it in my store here.

#1. Make an eclipse viewer

A total solar eclipse happens when the moon lines up perfectly to completely cover the face of the sun. When that happens it is safe to look directly at the eclipse. But during the partial eclipse that leads up to the total eclipse, it is not safe to look directly at the sun. Making this eclipse viewer will enable you to watch the progression of the eclipse without looking at the sun! The instructions are re-worded from a post on NASA’s website, link here.

Materials

  • Two pieces of cardstock
  • Aluminum foil
  • Safety pin
  • Scissors
  • Tape

Directions

  1. Cut a 2” by 2” square hole in the middle of one of the pieces of card stock.

2. Cut a piece of aluminum that is a little bigger than the hole you just cut in the card stock.

3. Tape the foil over the hole.

4. Use the safety pin to prick a small hole in the foil.

5. When the eclipse is starting, take both of your pieces of card stock (the plain one and the one with foil) outside. Put the plain one on the ground and position the foil one above it so that a pinprick of light shows on the card stock on the ground.

6. Watch the dot of light as the eclipse progresses. You will be able to see the position of the moon over the sun by looking at the dot of light on the paper. This allows you to watch the eclipse without looking directly at the sun, which can damage your eyes.

I am planning on doing this with my son during the eclipse. Watch my facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/immersesciencekits/ , for pictures of the results!

#2. Make a paper model of an eclipse

This project becomes a handy tool to explain to a child what is happening during an eclipse. In this paper model the relative sizes of the moon, earth, and sun are not to scale, and neither is their distance from each other. But it does show how the moon orbits around the earth, the earth around the sun, and how the moon can come between the earth and sun to block the sun’s light. Looking at and playing with the model can help a child understand and visualize what a solar eclipse is. It is also a fun, hands-on art project.

The complete instructions for this one, as well as the supplies, are included in my eclipse science kit for preschoolers, as mentioned above.

#3. Corona finger painting

One of the most spectacular things about a total solar eclipse is that the sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona, becomes visible to the naked eye. The corona has some fascinating characteristics, some of which baffle scientists. It is many many times hotter than the surface of the sun. This seems to contradict some of the laws of thermodynamics. It is kind of like a light bulb heating the air around it to a higher degree than the glass of the bulb itself. There are some hypothesis as to how the sun does this, but it is still debated heavily.

The idea for this corona finger painting originally came from the website for Books and Giggles, link here. But we upgraded it by using finger paints instead of crayons. The result was pretty neat!

My eclipse science kit has all of the instructions and supplies for this craft. I also included some tips on how to explain it to a preschooler using words and terms they can understand. My son, J, loved it. He gets excited about any craft we do that allows him to get a bit messy.

I hope you enjoy these crafts with your child! Don’t forget to watch the eclipse on August 21st if you get a chance! It will be spectacular.