Getting Children into Astronomy

Giving your children an interest in astronomy will provide a lifetime of pleasure and satisfaction, a sense of wonder at the universe, a potentially lifelong hobby, as well as a possible professional career for them in later years!

Before you give them binoculars or buy them a telescope or a hand held planetarium, get your kids outside on a clear night to look at the stars in the way humans have always done - with their eyes. Naked eye astronomy is the way to begin learning about the heavens. That's because, apart from the moon, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and a few other night sky objects like the Pleiades, looking at something through binoculars or a telescope can be difficult and disappointing. The star which is a tiny point of light in the sky will remain a tiny point of light when magnified. Even holding binoculars steady enough for viewing is likely to be challenging for smaller children anyway.

It's much better to get children inspired about the night sky by having them learning about and watching the phases of the moon, or the shapes of the brighter constellations, without using instruments. Of course, if you are hazy about things like the names of the constellations yourself you will be setting out on a voyage of discovery
with your kids as well! There are many great software programs available which will display the currently visible night sky on your computer, or you can check the constellations in the charts in any good astronomy guidebook. Then you can pass on your knowledge when stargazing.

Another recommendation before venturing out in the dark - dress your kids warmly, make them wear hats, and don't try to do too much on the first night. Whether you stargaze in your yard, in the local park, or have to drive outside the city to get away from the artificial light and streetlights and get a clear view of the stars, don't let your kids get too cold. I know from bitter experience that this will make it harder to get them out the next time.

You can also be very clever about your first night sky adventure by choosing to go out when there are likely to be meteor showers. Consult a guidebook or an online web site to find out when and from which area of the sky the next meteor shower will come, and get your kids out to see it. This is exciting for kids as well as adults, and you can compete to see who can count the most.

If you live in higher latitudes, auroras (the northern or southern lights) are another spectacular night sky event: I have even roused my children from their beds to see a good one, and I'm sure they will thank me for it when they are older!

Spotting planets is another fine game, and the kids will soon be adept at pointing out Venus or Jupiter at dusk, given a clear sky.

As always with education, the secret is with reinforcement. If you mention the blue color of Rigel or the red color of Betelgeuse one night, ask the kids if they can remember the name of the red or blue stars in Orion the next time you go out. If you have been working on why the moon has phases, get them to experiment with a tennis ball and a flashlight. One method: place a flashlight (representing the sun) on a chair pointing at the child who then turns while they hold the tennis ball at arm's length to simulate the moon circling the earth.

Ways to teach about the night sky are limited only by your imagination, and when your kids have grasped the basics, you can then think about a telescope, and mastering that. At that point, the universe will really open up for parent and child.

Best Education Sites

We've gathered a panel of specialists from the fields of graphic design, web development, and college counseling to analyze the state of the academic web space in 2011. We set out to answer one question: Are schools doing the best job they can of reaching out to students through edu websites?

At Best Education Sites, we believe that many of our colleges and universities are failing their students in one crucial way - by not providing them with a rich and easy learning experience on their educational sites. As the world of web design progresses at a dizzying pace, education websites seem to be lost in the past, unable or unwilling to keep up.

Anyone who has visited edu sites has probably had the experience: clunky user interface, incomprehensible navigation, ugly design, and no content of any real use for students. We are well aware of this situation, and that is why we decided to create this project of ranking the best educational websites: to try to help fix it.

Our 2011 report on the state of the academic web space, in particular educational websites for students, was compiled by our team of over 2,000 web specialists for the single purpose of assessing where we stand, as a nation of colleges and universities, right now. Rating each school's educational website in terms of design, content, and usability, our experts have sought to create a full and thorough picture of what each educational site has to offer, and what it lacks.

We've also looked at schools' use (or misuse) of social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. Although we believe that, by and large, schools, through their learning websites, are inadequately supplying their students with a web experience of quality, we also want to acknowledge those that have done a stellar job at creating some of the best educational sites for students. This is how we give the best sites their proper due.

BestEdSites is intended for anyone who has ever become frustrated by the education website of a college or university, and for everyone who thinks that our schools can - and should - do better. Best Education Sites is also for anyone interested in web design and higher education, and how the two seemingly disparate fields of interest interact in profoundly important ways. Most of all, Best Education Sites is for students.

Today's college students are engaged with an online world in a way that no other generation ever has before. Our schools must step up to the challenge of meeting them there by providing them with the best education websites possible. And we will try to help them do just that.

Here is a list of the best educational websites for kids, the top educational websites for teachers, the top language arts educational sites for kids and the best websites for students regarding math and science.

More Recommended Astronomy Sites

* Is it your child's dream of taking a ride aboard the Space Shuttle to the International Space Station? * That may be possible in the future, but not at the present. However, you can inspire them to be our future .

* I have listed some great astronomy sites for kids and even older folks:

  • - A free and fun resource with lots of interactive learning. There are games, stellar observation information, an Online Astronomy Academy, and other cool stuff. Has many space related topics for ages 7-18.
  • Astronomy for Kids- Basic, easy to read information about our solar system and beyond. Specially suited for ages 6-12.
  • NASA Kids Club - Has lots and lots of great interactive learning games for many skill levels. I even played some myself. The Buzz Light Year Travels to Space games are really fun.
  • StarChild - A learning resource with tons of terrific information about space and the universe. Great for kids under age 14.
  • Goddard Spaceflight Center: Imagine the Universe - A learning resource with tons of terrific information about space and the universe. Great for high school students.
  • Amazing Space - An awesome site suitable for all ages that teaches about space through the "eyes" of the Hubble Space Telescope.
  • NASA Space Place - Another great NASA site that offers cool games, activity projects, trivia facts, and much more. * Additiional sites to be added.... Stay Tuned

A Guide to Outer Space Surveillance!

If you look into the sky at night while in the city, you will see fewer stars than you would if you looked into the night sky from out in the country. This is because of light pollution. The lights we use on Earth, such as streetlights and car headlights, help us see at night but too much light actually limits our ability to see up into space.

Scientists are able to use telescopes to see the objects in space much closer than we can by just looking up. While space is still mysterious to even the smartest scientist, we have discovered a lot of information about the stars, planets, and other bodies that exist in outer space.

Types of Stars

Stars shine so brightly because they are on fire. You might be wondering how that can be possible. You have probably seen a campfire die out, so how can a star keep burning for so long? They use a process called nuclear fusion to turn hydrogen into helium over and over again. Just in our galaxy there are over 100 billion stars, one of which is the Sun. Like snowflakes, no two stars in the universe are the same, and hotter stars tend to burn brighter.

One type of star is the Red Giant. These are usually stars that have run out of hydrogen to fuse. They get really, really big and can suck in planets and other space objects. White dwarfs are another type of star. They are incredibly heavy but only a little bigger than the Earth. They are usually stars that were Red ?Giants at an earlier time but cooled down. When a White Dwarf cools down, it becomes a Black Dwarf.

The Solar System

Our solar system only has one star: the Sun. But it supplies light and heat for lots and lots of other objects. Our solar system has eight planets. In order from the closest to the sun they are: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. There are also several dwarf planets, a belt of metal space rocks known as asteroids between Mars and Jupiter, and comets which are flying clouds of gas, dust and rock.


The universe is made up of billions of galaxies, which are collections of dust, stars and gas. Galaxies range from 1,500 to 300,000 light years in size. Our solar system is part of the Milky Way Galaxy, which is about 100,000 light years across. There are three main types of galaxies. Spiral galaxies are those that have gas and dust arms spreading outward from its center in a spiral pattern. The Milky Way is a spiral galaxy

There are also elliptical galaxies that are more circular. They are the most common type of galaxy and they are made up mostly of stars. Finally, irregular galaxies do not have a defined shape and they are the most likely place where new stars will be formed.

The Universe

Our solar system is huge. It measures about two light years across. However, the Universe is many billions of light years across; hundreds, perhaps thousands of billions of light years in fact. When we look up at the night sky we can see light from stars that may have burned out millions of years ago.

It's just taking a long time for the light to get here. No one is sure how the Universe came to be, but there are many educated theories. One of the most popular is the Big Bang Theory. It suggests that all matter was once squished together in a tiny, dense space and then exploded with a big bang. Theories such as this are researched by astronomers, who are scientists that study space.

The Universe is made up of a lot of dark energy and dark matter. Learn more about them.

Black Holes

A black hole is perhaps the most powerful force in the universe. They are created when giant stars explode in a supernova. They are so powerful that they absorb light, so we can't actually see them. The objects that surround them sometimes reflect light so it isn't impossible to determine where one is. In 2011, people actually saw a star sucked into a black hole in the visible night sky. Scientists believe that the center of every galaxy is actually a supermassive black hole. An object needs to be quite close to a black hole to fall in, so the Earth is not at risk of falling into the hole at the center of the Milky Way.

Astronomy: Computer Software Games for Kids

There's a lot more to the universe than just planet Earth. Astronomy is a field of study covering the entire universe, from giant planets to the tiniest flow of energy. The sun is the center of the solar system. Astronomers named this massive star "Sol," which is where we get the word "solar."

Over the course of 4.5 billion years, the solar system has formed into what it is today, part of a galaxy filled with gases, dust, and billions of stars. Stars, including our solar system's largest star, the sun, are made of helium and hydrogen. A group of stars connected by an imaginary line is a constellation, and people have made up constellations in the shapes of animals, mythological characters, and objects.

Our solar system includes eight major planets and a few dwarf planets, like Pluto and Ceres. In orbit closest to the sun are the inner planets, which are made of metals and minerals and have rocky surfaces. These planets are Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars.

Our solar system neighborhood also includes asteroids, chunks of rock and metal. An asteroid belt, a region of space containing many asteroids, separates the inner group of planets from the outer planets, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.Mostly made of gases, these giants have only a core of solid mass.Also in orbit in our solar system are comets, which are like dirty snowballs made of frozen gases and ice. How big is the universe? No one knows, but we know that it has many galaxies light years away from the one where we live.A light year is how astronomers measure distance in outer space: One light year is six trillion miles. With technology, math, telescopes, and satellite images, scientists are finding better ways of exploring the galaxy. It has been more than 50 years since a human first went into space, and today, we keep working to find out more about what's out there in the universe and how it all works.


Schools Outreach Program NSW

Welcome to our unique 'ASTRONOMY OUTREACH' program for primary schools. Designed by Dave Reneke from Mid North Coast Astronomy as an interactive visual astronomy/space show, it makes learning fun. This program is unique! Fully focussed on the student educating them in an interactive way about the many wonders of the night sky and focus on our closest star- the Sun.

Throughout each 20-30 minute talk we'll will be using the latest, most up to date visual material available from NASA and the Hubble Space Telescope. We focus mainly on the solar system as well as touching on how the universe came to be and describe what stars are where they're made of.

Afterwards we go outside and let the kids view the Sun with safe solar glasses (a REAL buzz) and also do 'Solar Projection'- showing the Sun's full disc with amazing black sunspots projected onto a screen below the telescope. We can also view solar flares shooting out from the Sun.

Presented to in a fun way, the program is suitable for students from all primary school levels, but if need be provision can be made for younger students. We can also do multiple talks on the day. Our requirements are a darkened room, power access and teacher supervision.

'Astronomy Outreach - A Universe in the Classroom'

Students get to hold a real large 4.5 billion year old meteorite!
Students get to hold a real large 4.5 billion year old meteorite!

Cost: $3 per child to cover our time, fuel and set-up expenses. Minimum number: 100 children (No maximum) Schools can combine classes or join with other schools to make up numbers if required.

TEACHERS: To continue the lessons and assist in further study we will be leaving a FREE resource pack containing a few pair of Solar Glasses- Solar Viewers - Astronomy Fact Sheets - Space colouring in sheets to photocopy, etc. Note: Inquiring about this program does not place you or the school under any obligation.

* Please note this activity is weather dependent. ie/cloudless skies

Dave Reneke Telephone: (02) 6585 2260 Mobile: 0400 636 363 Email:

Here are typical comments from some of the schools recently visited

* "Dave, thanks for a very interesting and informative presentation. I particularly appreciated the effort you made to deliver material relevant to our students. Your visit has certainly helped to maintain enthusiasm in our fledgling science club. Good luck." Mark Vale. Ashford Central School. NSW.

* "Dear Dave. Thanks for visiting St.Clare's last week and giving such a great presentation. The response from the students was very positive and we have a very enthusiastic group keen to start an astronomy club." Penny Wood. St. Clare's. Taree

* "The program kept all children from K- 6 interested for 1 hour, not easy to do!" St. Joseph s Gloucester.

* "Very informative, fast moving and extremely entertaining. Relates very well to K-6 science curriculum!" Helen Hamilton. Lawrence Public School NSW

* " Excellent! A well presented program, interesting and thought provoking" Gladstone Public.

* "Great! Exactly what we wanted". Helen Wiederman. Beresfield Public School.

* "Dear Dave, Thanks for the talk and the night viewing. The kids (and us) really enjoyed it - they are still talking about it. It seems they were a bit apprehensive at first because they thought it was going to be like school (boring), but were really surprised because you made it soooo interesting, and you talked to them at their level and dealt with their questions really well!!" Sandy Hoogland. St Josephs High. Wauchope

'Astronomy Outreach - A Universe in the Classroom'

9 Fairmont Drive Wauchope. NSW 2446 Australia. Phone 02 - 6585 2260 Mobile 0400 636 363