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Astronomy Unit Study Resources (with 3 FREE Printables)

My kids and I have completed several unit studies on Astronomy (4 years apart). My kids and I have a lot of fun with this unit, focusing on:

  • astronomical observations and field trips

  • biographies of famous astronomers

  • hands-on projects

  • general astronomy books

  • astronomy-related movies, music, and documentaries

This combination of resources seems to work particularly well, and really sparks my children's enthusiasm. In this post, I will detail all of the resources and books we have used, to make it easy for you to have your own astronomy unit study, too!

Astronomical Observations and Field Trips

One of the best things about studying astronomy with kids is that some of the field trips can happen in your own back yard. With a little bit of online research, you can find out which astronomical events will be happening over the course of your Astronomy Unit Study. Additionally, you may be able to attend local astronomy events hosted by your local astronomical society or university. Our field trips included:

  • stargazing to find the constellations and planets in our own back yard and while going out for walks after dark

  • getting up in the middle of the night to drive out to a very dark location where we could observe a meteor shower

  • observing a lunar eclipse

  • visiting nearby observatories

  • night sky telescope observations through the local university and astronomical society - this was especially worthwhile because we were able to learn from people who were passionate and knowledgeable about astronomy

A few helpful resources for astronomy field trips are:

  • Earth Sky - This website shows objects of interests for every night.

  • Sky At A Glance - This website has week-by-week information for what to look for in the night sky.

  • Sky and Telescope - This website has detailed lists of upcoming meteor showers, eclipses, comets, and much more.

  • Star Walk app - This app makes it easy to find constellations, stars, and planets of interest, plus other objects of interest such as the International Space Station, satellites, etc.

  • Find the Constellations by H.A. Rey - This book is a perfect first reference for finding the constellations in the sky throughout the year. Beware that, because the planets move throughout the years, older editions of this book may be outdated.

  • The Stars by H.A. Rey - This book gives a more detailed look at the constellations and stars. Beware that, because the planets move throughout the years, older editions of this book may be outdated.

Biographies of Famous Astronomers

With read-aloud biographies, we were able to get up-close and personal with the people who have furthered humanity's understanding of the universe. Biographies are one of the best ways to incorporate history into our learning, as they make the events in history have more meaning when seen within the context of real people's lives.

I have included age codes to make it clear for which ages each book will be best suited. The age codes are: C = Children 4-9; Y = Youth 9-12; YA = Young Adults 13-15; A = Adults and the Later Teen Years (16-18)

(In chronological order)

Hands-On Projects

We have used a few different simple hands-on projects during our astronomy units. These projects result in visual reminders that we could see daily, so these projects also really helped us become more deeply engaged in learning about astronomy and astronomers.

Paper Model of the Solar System

Creating a paper model of the solar system was a great way for us to understand the sizes of the objects in our solar system. Having this model hanging up in our house for several months resulted in my kids effortlessly learning the order of the planets in the solar system.

We made our solar system model to-scale, meaning that the planets and sun were shown accurately regarding how their sizes compare to each other. The sun really is shockingly large! We hung up each paper planet at the correct distance from the sun so we could see how far apart things are in the solar system; however, we had to use a different scale for the distances from the sun than for the sizes of the planets, or else they would not be able to fit in our home. If we used the same scale for the distance that we used for the size of the planets, Neptune would have needed to be 6,466 feet (over one mile) away from our sun!

To make it easy for you to create your own paper solar system, click on the image below to get a FREE printable showing the sizes of the planets and distances from the sun.

Wall of Famous Astronomers

The other simple project we did during our Astronomy unit was the Wall of Famous Astronomers. When we learned about different astronomers, my kids enjoyed cutting and coloring pictures of each astronomer to add to our wall. Having these short biographies and pictures on our wall was very engaging for my kids, as they periodically referred back to the pictures and made up play scenarios involving the different astronomers. The Wall of Famous Astronomers was a helpful visual reminder for us all in learning about each of these important persons.

If you want to make your own Wall of Famous Astronomers, click on the image below to download your FREE printable of pictures and biographies.

The Earth as a Peppercorn

Another simple project is The Earth as a Peppercorn, which gives guidance for creating a to-scale model of the solar system with the Earth being represented by a peppercorn. You will need about 1/4 mile of distance to walk for this activity, and it is very impressive to realize just how large the solar system is when you walk out to the gas giants and Pluto!

General Astronomy Books

Besides astronomer biographies, my kids and I also read many books about astronomy and space in general. I also made sure to read a few engaging astronomy books on my own, to further my own education and give me plenty of enthusiasm to share with my kids.

The age codes are: C = Children 4-9; Y = Youth 9-12; YA = Young Adults 13-15; A = Adults and the Later Teen Years (16-18)

Books about the Solar System

Books about Stars, Galaxies, and Other Astronomical Features

Space Exploration Books

Astronomy-Related Movies, Music, and Documentaries

Gustav Holst's The Planets suite was an easy way for us to incorporate classical music into our unit study. The music is beautiful and moving, and gave us an opportunity to discuss the personalities that have been assigned to the planets through Greco-Roman mythology.

We also watched a few astronomy-related movies/documentaries. All of the movies have some intense scenes that may not be appropriate for young children, so use discretion in determining what will be appropriate for your own kids.

Putting It All Together

This astronomy unit study can easily take a semester or longer to complete. The most important thing is to keep it light and fun, rather than turning it into an "assignment" for the kids. Allow your children to participate as much or as little as they choose, and focus on building your own enthusiasm which you can share with your kids.

Relax and take as long as you need to complete the unit study. If one particular topic/astronomer/space mission captures your child's interest, pause there and linger for awhile, digging as deep as your child's interests reach. Be open to finding other ways to include your children's own unique interests into the unit study, such as through art projects, lego creations, or music.

Here is an example of one way you can use all of these astronomy resources to have your own unit study:

  • Plan the field trips: Find out when there will be celestial events and local astronomy events to participate in. Mark them on the calendar so you don't forget!

  • Locate the books: Hopefully, many of the books will be available at your local library or used bookstore. Order any books that will be needed for the upcoming unit.

  • Enjoy star-gazing together: Spend a few weeks getting acquainted with the night sky and constellations.

  • Introduce the sun and planets: Once every week or two, focus on a new heavenly body from our solar system. Read aloud books about the sun/planet, and try to find each planet in the night sky. Make a paper model of the sun/planets as you go, and listen to The Planets suite together.

  • Get to know the astronomers: Once every week or two, listen to a chapter from Great Astronomers and/or read aloud a biography of an astronomer. Add a picture of each astronomer to your wall.

  • Learn and explore more: As time allows, incorporate some of the general astronomy and space exploration books.

  • Watch the videos: Incorporate the videos when their topics arise, such as watching Apollo 13 during the week when you are learning about the moon.

Have fun learning about astronomy together!

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