My father doesn’t dip his toes in the water. When he’s interested in something, he dives in headfirst.
So when he became interested in astronomy, 8-year-old me was in for a treat. He bought all the books. He memorized names of constellations and introduced them like characters in our bedtime stories.
His excitement was contagious as he led us into the backyard to look through his newly constructed telescope. He showed us Mars and the Milky Way. During those nights, we would stay up past our bedtime and talk about where Earth belongs in the solar system and how far away a star actually is.
Now, I’m a parent myself. And one night, when our family was deep into the witching hour, and I was up to my elbows in soapsuds, I yelled (again) to my 2-year-old to sit, not run, on the couch.
“Let’s go outside, Mama! I wanna play outside!” he wailed.
I looked at the clock — 8 p.m. Bath time should have started 20 minutes ago. I took a deep breath. “Yes, Jack, let’s go outside.”
What is it about the outdoors that immediately changes a child’s mood? Instantly, a tiny tyrant reverts to my sweet baby.
“An airplane, Mama! Look! An airplane!” he exclaimed. We spent the next 15 minutes lying on our backs in the grass, pointing out what we saw and singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
My dad still calls me whenever there’s going to be a super moon or a meteor shower. Although his obsession with astrophysics has dwindled to a hobby, the bond it helped to form between us remains. I hope to give my boys this same sense of connection. I want them to look up at the moon, or see a shooting star, and wonder whether their mom is looking, too.
How to explore the night sky
• Just do it. Take 10 minutes and go outside with your child. Your to-do list will wait.
• Ask questions. Ask younger children to describe what they see. Challenge older children: “Do you know which planet that is?” “Which constellations do you see?”
• Browse astronomy books with your child so you both learn more about the night sky. Some suggestions for younger kids: “There’s No Place Like Space!” by Tish Rabe, “What’s Out There? A Book About Space,” by Lynn Wilson, “The Moon Book,” by Gail Gibbons, and “The Big Dipper,” by Franklyn Branley and Molly Coxe.
• Download a free app called Star Chart, which names the constellations as you hold your phone up to the sky. This is particularly fun for older kids.
• Visit the Arizona Science Center’s Dorrance Planetarium to jumpstart their interest and yours, with such shows as “Arizona Skies” and “Grand Tour of the Solar System.” Visit azscience.org for details.