Activities for Family Astro

Implemented during Summer 2008 event: Solar Themed

Number of Attendees: 17 children
Format: 1-3pm, no break up of groups this time -- This was due to the small number of volunteers and time flow issues last time when many people arrived late or didn't show up.

1-1:30 Looking at the sun through a telescope (with a solar filter, of course!). Keeping the first 20 minutes flexible made it easier for late arrivals to trickle in.
1:15 - Started making pinhole sun viewers.
1:45 - Put solar s'mores in the sun oven.
2:00 - Make sun dial
2:45 - Get solar s'mores and eat them while viewing videos of the sun

Pinhole Sun Viewers

Cut a square out of a small strip of cardboard or a shoebox. Cover the square with foil and poke a hole through it with a thumb tack Get a white piece of paper and use it as a screen to project an image of the sun. Best for eclipses. Also good to shine a laser through and see the diffraction patterns (if the hole is small enough).

The image is about 1/100th the size of the focal length.

Sun Oven (Solar S'mores)

Instructions and ideas for building different types of solar ovens

We made a version of the "easy lid" cooker

The temperature inside the oven got well above 120 F and broke Lia's cheapo thermometer keychain. It took about 60 minutes to cook the marshmallows to the perfect consistency. On the day of the event, however, the chocolate was melting too fast, so we moved it into the shade a little. This didn't cook the marshmallow well enough, so the kids ended up with chocolate-sauce covered marshmallows with grahm crackers. Most of the kids have never had a real s'more, so it was still a treat. Next time I suggest cooking the marshmallow by itself and adding the chocolate at the end.

Lia still has the original sun-oven. If you have to make another one, do it well in advance. It's not an easy structure for kids to build.

Principles behind solar box cookers

Sun Dials

We found blueprints for a sundial, using Latitude 41 N.
You can make one for any latitude. Unfortunately the page that explains it in detail is no longer up. You can learn how to use the horizontal sundial from

Movies of the Sun from SOHO

The Best of SOHO Movies

Implemented during Spring 2008 event

3 activity stations, 3 groups (6-8, 9-11, 12-13 as a rough guideline), switching every 30 minutes.
The last 30 minutes were split between a tour of the observatory and the 3-D projection screen.

TP Solar System

That's right, toilet paper! A fun and humorous way to teach kids about scales of the universe.

Be sure to keep kids moving. We used Charmin toilet paper, which was a little difficult to write on. Next time we suggest Scott (thin and papery), but there is still some Charmin left in the 12th floor storage room.

Invent an Alien

There are many different ways to do it, but here is the general breakdown:

Kids are given a brief overview of a few planets or bodies and asked to imagine what life might be like in order to survive there. We used Mars and Jupiter, with the addition of Europa for the older kids. PowerPoint? makes a good visual aid. I put up a few pictures of interesting life-forms on Earth so kids could think about the adaptations that animals have to make them suited for their environment.

Rainbows & Scattering

The physics department donated diffraction grating glasses so we could give them away to the kids. With arc lamps (12th floor storage), kids can see the "fingerprint" of the gases inside. Then kids learned why the sky is blue by adding milk to a tank full of water. When you shine light from a standard light bulb, you can see a redder hue when you look straight into the light and bluer hue when you look at the light reflected from the side.

More spectrum glasses are still available in the 12th floor storage room. If none are left, contact Allan Blair or David Tam, and they can help you get some more.

Other Little Activities

I am personally fond of "Crash Landing!" because it would involve the entire family.

Also, if kids get bored, "Constellation Detective" is a good quick 2 minute activity.