Astronomy Unit Study Resources (with 3 FREE Printables)
Updated: Mar 5
[2023 UPDATES: Now including another hands-on project, "The Earth as a Peppercorn", plus how to use "The Planets" book as a read-aloud "spine" book for older children.] 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
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 Beware that, because the planets move throughout the years, older editions of this book may be outdated.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)
AUDIOBOOK: Great Astronomers by Robert Ball (Y, YA, A) (FREE on Librivox. This book gives fascinating insights into the lives of great astronomers, many of whom we'd never even heard of! It does a good job of explaining the astronomical discoveries of each astronomer. The science in this book is challenging, even for me, but nonetheless my kids and I enjoyed listening to this audiobook, such as while driving in the car.)
Nicolaus Copernicus: The Earth Is a Planet by Dennis Brindell Fradin (C, Y)
Galileo's Journal 1609-1610 by Jeanne Pettenati (C, Y)
Along Came Galileo by Jeanne Bendick (C, Y, YA)
I, Galileo by Bonnie Christensen (Y, YA)
Starry Messenger by Peter Sis (Y, YA)
Newton's Rainbow by Kathryn Lasky (C, Y, YA)
Giants of Science: Isaac Newton by Kathleen Krull (Y, YA, A)
Caroline's Comets by Emily Arnold McCully (C, Y)
Look Up! Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer by Robert Burleigh (C, Y)
Annie Jump Cannon, Astronomer by Carole Gerber (C, Y)
On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne (C, Y)
Odd Boy Out: Young Albert Einstein by Don Brown (C, Y)
Giants of Science: Albert Einstein by Kathleen Krull (Y, YA, A)
Clyde Tombaugh and the Search for Planet X by Margaret Wetterer (C, Y)
Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker (C, Y)
Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly (C, Y)
Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing by Dean Robbins (C, Y)
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!
You can download a FREE printable of The Earth as a Peppercorn here: https://lavinia.as.arizona.edu/~dmccarthy/GSUSA/activities/Additional%20Files/Thousand%20Yard%20SS%20Earth%20is%20Peppercorn.pdf