Background Information & Activities
Children are naturally curious about the world around them. Every child has looked up at the sky and stared at the Moon in wonder. Most have heard folktales or read stories about the Moon. Learning the fundamental principles of the Earth, Moon, and the Sun will help children grasp a deeper knowledge about their world. Review with your children that the Moon is Earth’s closest neighbor in space. The Moon orbits the Earth, and together the Earth and Moon orbit the Sun. We recommend watching the Earth movie together as a review. Help children understand that we see the Moon rise and set just like the Sun and that it goes through different phases, such as the new Moon, crescent Moon, half Moon, and full Moon.
The Moon is about one-quarter the size of our planet, and it is about 238,857 miles from Earth. Moons are natural satellites, or celestial bodies that orbit a planet. Some planets, like Jupiter, have several moons; Earth has only one. Remind your children that the Moon is like a ball of rock that orbits, or goes around, Earth. Review with your children that Earth spins on its axis. It takes about 24 hours for Earth to spin once. It takes about 28 days for the Moon to orbit Earth. Together the Moon and Earth orbit the Sun, which takes about 365 days. The Moon’s surface is rocky and dusty and full of craters, most likely made by rocks that crashed into the Moon. The surface is not flat, but has mountains and valleys. Your children should know that scientists have not yet found evidence of plants or animals (or aliens) on the Moon. However, scientists believe there might have been water on the Moon.
Some children might notice that the Moon rises and sets in the night sky. Explain that the Sun rises in the east and sets in the west, and the Moon does the same thing. Sometimes you can even see the Sun and the Moon in the sky at the same time. The Moon appears to rise and set because of Earth’s spin on its axis and the Moon’s orbit around Earth. You may ask volunteers to model the Earth’s spin and the Moon’s orbit around Earth. It is important for children to understand that the Moon still exists and keeps orbiting Earth even if they cannot see it.
Ask your children if the Moon always looks the same in the night sky. Remind your children that the Moon does not make its own light or heat like the Sun. We can only see the Moon because the Sun’s light shines on it. You may want to turn off the lights and shine a flashlight on an object to illustrate your point. If the flashlight only shines on part of an object, you can only see part of the object. This phenomenon explains why we see different parts of the Moon throughout a month. Explain that the Moon goes through phases, or periods of time when we see different parts of the Moon. The first phase is the new Moon. We do not see the Moon in the sky at all during this phase because the Sun shines on part of the Moon that faces away from Earth. After the new Moon, we begin to see the Moon get bigger in the sky. It turns into a crescent Moon, then a half Moon (also called a quarter Moon) and then after 14 days, we see a full Moon. Then we see the Moon get smaller in the sky. It changes to a half Moon, then a crescent Moon, then it becomes a new Moon again and the cycle starts over. When we see the Moon get bigger, we say that it is waxing. When we see it get smaller, we say that it is waning.
Space exploration is an exciting topic for most children, but how do people explore space? Telescopes are powerful tools that help people see objects in the sky that are very far away. Observatories are places with powerful telescopes and many are open to the public. Scientists have launched space shuttles and satellites to help them learn more about space. In 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the Moon.
The Moon has played an important role throughout history. Ancient civilizations such as the Aztecs built temples to honor the Moon and observed its phases. Different Native American communities have passed down folktales about how the Moon came to be. Some cultures have passed down stories about the “Man in the Moon,” and other cultures have seen rabbits, women, and even buffalo in the Moon. Poems, essays, plays, novels, and music have all been written about the Moon. Talk to your children about what books they have read or stories they have heard about the Moon. A Moon study provides a wonderful opportunity to make cross-curricular connections and get children excited about the world around them.
The Moon Teacher Activities Click Here!
The Moon Family Activities Click Here!
The Moon Teacher Activities
Remind your students that the Earth spins on its axis, and the Moon orbits the Earth. Together they both orbit the Sun. Have small groups model the Moon, Earth, and Sun. The “Earth” can spin around while the “Moon” orbits. You can give the student who models the Sun a flashlight to shine on both the Moon and Earth. Point out to students that the Sun only shines on part of the Moon and that is why we see different parts of the Moon from Earth. You can also do the same activity using rubber of Styrofoam balls to model the Moon, Earth, and Sun.
As a reading and social studies connection, have your students collect and read different folktales, stories, or books about the Moon. What cultures have stories about a rabbit in the Moon? What stories do different communities tell about how the Moon came to be? Compare and contrast the stories. Then have students write and illustrate their own stories and tales about the Moon. Have students share their work with the class.
The Moon Family Activities
Together with your child, take a look at the Moon each night. Track the Moon’s changing phases on a daily calendar. Your child can draw sketches of the Moon and describe its shape and color. Your child can also add a quick description or diary entry about his or her thoughts or feelings for the day. Encourage your child to write in complete sentences and use descriptive language.
If possible, take your child to an observatory, planetarium, or a natural history museum to learn more about the moon. Many museums offer tours or audio guides that go more in depth about the Moon and other celestial bodies. Discuss what you see and learn together and ask your child to explain information in their own words to reinforce knowledge. Encourage your child to jot down notes or draw pictures.