Astronomy projects make excellent alternatives to the standard volcanoes and potato clocks for science fairs and school assignments. The universe is an amazing place, and with astronomy, the sky above your backyard becomes a science lab. When working with elementary students, astronomy projects should be simple, concrete, and emphasize understanding of basic astronomical concepts. It's always best to work with your child's interests, no matter the subject at hand. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Constellations are fascinating for children. They can be seen from everywhere, and each one has its own story. Start by getting a book on Greek mythology, I recommend "D'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths" by Ingri D'Aulaire and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire. Not only are the stories told eloquently, the constellations involved are beautifully illustrated.
Focus on three or four constellations. Ursa Major and Minor (The Big and Little Dippers), Orion, and Cygnus are easily found and quite popular. Have your child try and find them in the night sky, and take photos if possible.
Place photos (or drawings) of constellations on a the project board, along with a sumamry of the Greek myths for each, written by your child. Decorate the project board. You can also take pictures of your child visiting an observatory, add in specific star names, or expand the project to include astrology, depending on your child's abilities and interests.
Aliens and UFOs are fascinating subjects for children and adults alike. Elementary students can look at crop circle patterns, and talk about how pranksters made them with boards and string. Alternately, students can discuss the Mars Rover project, and how ice crystals were found on Mars, one of the key building blocks of life. The SETI project, where radio signals and messages were sent into space, hoping for contact, can be explored. Children with an artistic bent can draw their ideas of what aliens might look like, or even conduct a "drawing poll" of friends and family. Remember to keep it simple, keep it focused on science (not tabloid rumors), and avoid the scary parts (such as abductions) that can cause children nightmares.
*Stars and Planets*
Did you know that not every star is the same? Have your child explore the different types of stars- White Dwarfs, Red Dwarfs, and Nebulas. Children can draw them, download photos, or even create models from clay. Have your child write a paragraph about each, and put these next to the drawing or model for the display. The life stages of stars can also be explored, as can the importance of the biggest star in our system, the Sun.
Planets are another popular project. Children can make and display planet models, but they can also take this project farther by taking pictures of the planets in the night sky, and explaining how others can find them for themselves. Planets outside our solar system can also be explored.
Astronomy projects are fun. They can be as simple as photos, or as complex as multi-stage models. In studying astronomy, the learning opportunities for elementary students are endless. You can take trips to the local planetarium, or simply go on a night walk. Astronomy projects tend to be exciting for young children, as well as the teachers or parents who help them. Astronomy can tie in with many other areas, such as math, art, literature, or even Harry Potter stories! This science fair season, try an astronomy project with your grade school child, I'm sure it will be something you will both remember for a lifetime.