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Do-it-Yourself Astronomy Lessons
Have you ever sat with a child and watched the night sky? Can you point out the planets, stars or constellations? Children are eager to learn and Homeschoolers are no exception. But what do you do to insure that your home schooled child will learn things correctly, especially if you don’t have a lot of astronomical knowledge, yourself? Where can you turn for the materials and information be make sure your child has a clear grasp of the universe?
One of the best resources that home schooling parents can find is NASA. The NASA website is a treasure trove of information just waiting to be shared with eager young minds. For the “classroom” part of the astronomy education, the computer is your best teaching aid. The NASA site is loaded with Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) and all the answers to make teaching easier for the parent. Discovery is another good site, complete with pictures and FAQ’s like NASA’s. With a little extra searching, you can find yet more websites that are instructive and informational.
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Lessons for Outside the Classroom
But what about the non-classroom learning? What about a little hands-on experience or star maps that don’t require the computer to be effective? There are several science sites for young folks. Use your search engine to find one that has everything you need for the astronomy lessons. Styro-foam models of the solar system can be both fun, entertaining and very educational for the young students. Have them look up the appearance of each planet and spend a week studying it while they prepare to paint. The learning process works well when reading and information are combined with the tactile experience of creating a facsimile of their subject. Make sure you get a kit that also includes the moons for each planet and the sun for the centerpiece.
The child should he helped (if necessary) to compute the scale distance between the sun, planets and their moons. It makes a good math lesson, too. Using the ceiling of the child’s bedroom or your home classroom, have all the new planets and moons hung from the ceiling so the child can see them and admire their handiwork (as well as the immensity of the solar system!)
For further education in astronomy, there are star maps available from many sources. Some are very large and some are small enough to fit on a desk or a table. The size depends on the surface the child will be using as well as the clarity of the images. If the map is small, due to “space” considerations, having a magnifying glass for the child to use to see the stars and planets, moons and galaxies can be very exciting as well as a good lesson in what scientists have to deal with when studying the reaches of space. http://www.google.com/sky/
Selecting one topic at a time, have the child draw charts of the constellations and most famous stars like Alpha Centauri or Arcturus. Depending on the age and interest level of the child, you can add more assignments on the computer and let NASA be your substitute teacher for more in-depth studies.
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Learning with Telescopes and Observatories
When the home schooled child has mastered some of the stars and constellations, it’s time for a telescope! Meade for example, http://www.meade.com/ has a great selection of telescopes of varying strengths and prices. You can also go to Optics Planet http://www.opticsplanet.net/telescopes.html and compare different brands and types of telescopes. Have the student prepare for the telescope by learning where the North Star is and what other star formations can be seen at that time of year. Allow plenty of time for little eyes to wander through the universe and locate everything in the sky that has been studied on paper and computer screen. Maybe you’ll get lucky an see a meteor shower (if you plan it right) and eclipse of the moon (planning again - see lunar eclipse article) or just a “falling star” here and there for the excitement.
Most colleges and universities have their own observatories in case your student has an ongoing interest and the small telescope isn’t enough to satisfy the curiosity. Taking field trips is important for home schooled children and a day at an observatory should make a lasting impression, especially after the course of studies outlined above. The larger and more powerful telescopes will reveal more about space and perhaps peak their interest enough to want to learn more. If not, at least your home schooled child will have some knowledge about the universe.
After the classes, hands on planet making, telescope and observatory visit, who knows? Maybe your child will wind up on the first manned mission to Mars! At the very least, your home schooler will have a better education and never look at science or science fiction in quite the same way again.