A couple of months ago we gave Otis his first telescope. We sent him outside to use it. He came back ten to fifteen minutes later, while he knew how to set it up he couldn't see anything out of it. I quickly figured out that not only did Otis need help in using the telescope, if he was going to get the most out of it I needed to do some research too. So we took it step-by-step and had a lot of fun in the process.
- Allows the child to gain a greater understanding of the solar system and the positioning and rotation of the Earth.
- Allows the child to follow an interest and further develop a skill including using a telescope and reading the night sky.
- Children can use a telescope to learn a lot about the moon (including phases), stars, planets and where to find them.
- Children first need to know how to use a compass and know which direction they are facing/find N/E/S/W
- Familiarise the child with the telescope, including how to clean and look after it.
- Find a star chart - at different times of the year you will see different stars, they will also help you to know where to look/point your telescope.
- Start with low magnification, the child will find objects easier on lower magnification. We also started focusing on things closer than the sky, like trees. The moons is an obvious point of interest and is always easy to find.
- Teach children correct names of stars and planets.
- Keep expectations in check, especially if it is overcast/lots of cloud in the sky - you might not see very much at all.
- Visit planetariums or observatories to further their interest.
- Once they have some experience you can ask the child to map the night sky, or simply make notes or a diagram of the stars (or planets if you are lucky) they can see.
- Practice and patience are so important. It may take a couple of nights before you will find something interesting or get a clear night. The more practice the child has the more their skills in using the telescope and reading the night sky (finding stars) will develop. It may also take a while for your child's eyes to adapt to the night, try not to give up too quickly.
- We have used our telescope during the day but it's important the children never use it to look at the sun.
- Be careful to avoid eyestrain and ensure your children take lots of short breaks.
- Telescope - we use a refractor beginners microscope.
- Notepad and pencil - for observations and notes.
- Guide or star chart - we use the book 2018 Guide to the Night Sky and website AstroSpace (both for UK and Ireland).
I-Spy In the Night Sky: What can you spot? is also a good little book which has helped me brush up on my astronomy, it's good to know the basics before starting with your child, but it's also suitable for children depending on their reading skills perhaps 7 years+. I am not an expert on telescopes or astronomy but have found a little preparation and information has helped me to teach my children. If you have good binoculars it may be worth trying these with your child first. I also think it's been helpful to Otis that he has had some experience using a microscope before learning to use the telescope - it's not necessary to use a microscope first but I think it has helped him. Montessori For Everyone has some free Constellation cards that might be useful too. Please feel free to share your own tips!