When the bustle and turbulence of the world quietens down at the end of the day, there is a satisfying tranquil peace that comes with a silent moment underneath the night sky. Even as adults, still, with a lingering wisp of childish curiosity, we lift our eyes to observe an entire universe above our heads, marvelling at the sheer magnitude of all that which is so vast and out of reach.
Contemplating even just our own galaxy, let alone beyond, can be somewhat overwhelming - reflecting on just how small our little planet is in comparison. However, it is this exhilarating curiosity which makes learning about it all the more fun.
History tells us that human beings have always taken an interest in the night sky, and for varying reasons:
Stars were observed for many years by farmers, to understand seasons and establish when was the best time to plant crops. They have had ceremonial uses and the presumed ability to predict good and bad omens. Being a fixed point, the North Star has become a sort of ‘sky anchor’ for those who use the stars for celestial navigation. Whether it be for observational or theoretical purposes, astronomy is one of the oldest methods of natural science.
What we understand now, and have seemingly always understood to some degree, is this: our universe is important – it has guided us for many thousands of years, and we can continue to learn by exploring it even further.
So how do we go about introducing children to the world of astronomy?
It starts with facts, and naturally, books are the best place to unearth them. Of course, I do have some book recommendations for exactly this topic, and one of them is: A Cat’s Guide to the Night Sky by Stuart Atkinson.
This is a superbly illustrated and accessible book for young children wanting to learn more about the night sky, playfully guided by Felicity the stargazing cat.
It will alert them to some interesting treasures of information, such as the changing constellations between the seasons - those patterns you see in Summer months are not the same constellations you’ll see in the Winter.
The one exception (as I touched upon earlier) is Polaris, the North star - the 50th brightest star that sits right above the Earth’s axis as the planet turns.
They may also enjoy discovering the difference between a star and a planet, and the simple yet beautiful answer is; if it twinkles, it’s a star.
As we happen to be deep in the midst of Spring, let’s look at the constellations we may be able to spot (and perhaps draw) at this time of year: Leo, Hydra, Cancer, Virgo, Libra, Crater and Corvus. The moment I showed my son this book, he was incredibly eager for the sky to darken so we could leap outdoors and seek out these fascinating constellations.
Our trusty stargazer's journal - which of course you can also get from us at Little English Bookworm - is the perfect thing for making notes, sketching and drawing constellations. It has a charming little section for writing poetry with a delightful list of word prompts on the side to help you on your way. Not to mention it has even got some star charts tucked away in the back!
So if you’re looking for a way to introduce your child to the wonders of the universe, I’d begin in the dazzling depth of the stars.
Our recommended night sky books:
A Cat’s Guide to the Night Sky - Stuart Atkinson, Brendan Kearney
Bringing Down The Moon - Jonathan Emmett
What are Stars? - Katie Daynes
The Usborne Stargazer's Journal