Teaching Kids About Monthly Moon Phases

To help your children better understand monthly moon phases, to learn about the rotation of the earth and moon and about the moon's surface, here are a few simple basic experiments that you can try at home.

You can begin simply, by observing the moon with your child for a week, at more or less then same time each day. Notice its location and shape daily, and also note its changing size. Take a trip to the library and look through some science books and picture books pertaining to the moon and stars. This will help your child start to see the moon in a new light.

Here's an experiment that you can try in your home to help your child see how the moon rotates around the earth. Why does the moon appear and then disappear? Collect a pencil, Styrofoam ball (about the size of a tennis ball), and a lamp. Push the pencil in the Styrofoam ball and position the lamp near a doorway. Now stand in a darkened room looking at the lighted doorway. Take hold of the ball and hold it up slightly above your head. Slowly turn yourself around, keeping the ball in front of you as you turn.

Carefully watch the ball as you turn, and note all of the shadow changes as you move. When you face the door, the ball is dark. Part of the ball lightens as you are turning then it becomes fully illuminated when your back is to the door. The ball then starts to progressively get dark as you turn back toward the door.

The doorway light lightens up one side of the ball at a time-the side facing the lamp. When you turn more, the lighted side now faces you. The moon acts like the ball in that the moonlight is a reflection of the Sun's light, and only one side of the Moon faces the Sun. This experiment mimics the Moon's phases, showing that as the Moon travels around the Earth different portions of its bright side are seen.

Another experiment shows how the Moon is a reflector of light that comes from the Sun: without the Sun's light, there would not be any moonlight. To do this demonstration, collect a flashlight, a hand mirror, and some modeling clay; you will also need a table to work from. The modeling clay will hold the hand mirror up as it sits on the table, so carefully ball up the clay and then press the mirror into the clay and stick it to the table.

Now you are ready to begin. This experiment must be performed in a darkened room for the best results. Turn the flashlight on and hold the front of the flashlight at an angle to the mirror. Turn the light on and off, and you should see that the mirror looks bright and a circle of light, its reflection, is seen on the wall. This should help you explain to your child how the moon really shines and why that happens.

A final experiment, crater blasting, is one that all kids enjoy trying over and over again. This experiment helps the children see how the craters on the Moon were formed as a result of meteorites. I find it best to do this outside on a day with no wind because it can get messy! If you chose to work inside, cover your kitchen floor with newspapers first to allow for easy cleanup.

The materials that you will need are a large bowl or dishpan, some flour, and a baseball and or golf ball. Find a flat area to work in, such as your driveway, backyard, or kitchen floor. Fill the bowl halfway with flour. Next, stand directly over the bowl and drop the ball (meteorite) into the flour (the Moon's surface) and watch the results. Carefully lift the ball out of the flour and notice the impression (crater) that was made in the flour. You can smooth it out and start again. Children enjoy watching the ball dropping and seeing the impression of the ball(s); they may want to drop it two or three times before smoothing it out to see what would happen in a meteor shower.

These are three simple and fun experiments that you can try at home with your children. Science is all around us, and when your child sees that there is a connection between what she looks at in the sky and how things work around her, it will help her to understand nature.

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