By Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.
From Twinkle Twinkle to Good Night Moon, the night sky holds endless fascination for young children. The magical combination of science and ritual is brimming with early childhood trinkets. Young children are the philosopher kings, drawn to the vast mysteries of the sky. And they are the space travelers far from home, ready to be tucked in tight after a long day’s adventure.
Early “astronomy” lessons are best done at home where children can see the sky first-hand. Just put yourself in your child’s shoes to appreciate what “dark” feels like. Lie on your back and listen to the quiet. Watch the moon as it changes shape and position from night to night. Are the stars moving or is it just the clouds? Where is that bright red planet? Who’s on that airplane flying overhead – is it sleeping children? When you wish upon that first star, ask to catch a glimpse of a falling star. Now, you’re ready to be your child’s guide.
Make looking at the moon a nightly ritual. You’ve read Good Night Moon countless times but has your child really experienced the moon? There is huge comfort in being in nature whether it’s daylight or night. It only takes a few minutes – and the observations are worth it.
Add to the science and math of the experience by marking a calendar with pictures of the moon. Your child will learn about days in a month and cycles of the moon. You will give your child a personal foundation for time concepts and nature in flux.
Preschoolers are more interested in “wonder” than in constellations. Rightfully so – there will be no test. But if parents are genuinely curious, children will make astute apprentices. Learn which star is the brightest (Sirius) and why it’s the Dog Star (it’s in the constellation Canus Major and the connection to “dog days of summer”). Find more fun facts at www.space.com.
Whatever your level of knowledge, there’s no doubt that staring at the stars is a powerful form of intimacy between parent and child. Even the undiscerning eye can see differences in size, brightness, and color. Bring out the telescope, notice the new shapes. Talk about the stars, talk about life.
Time stands still for wonder
Give your child the gift of time, sitting together in the dark. You’ll be surprised that fifteen minutes is worth an hour. Cultivate your inner wonderer or follow your child’s lead as she opens her imagination. How long does a star shine? Does grandma sees the same stars that we see? Is there really a man in the moon? What would it feel like to walk on the moon?
Make star gazing a Friday night ritual or a Full Moon event. Either way, you will build family memories, an appreciation for the magnificence of nature, and a life-long love of learning.
Who’s afraid of the dark?
Knowledge is power. We can use all that “science” to give children perspective at bedtime. Dark follows light every day. Nevertheless, children do feel powerless and alone in a room at night. Fears are an inevitable part of childhood. We cannot “reason” monsters away but we can put them in their place.
Nighttime rituals and conversations about the dark give children control over the unknown. Routines build a bridge that allows children to move forward. Children can focus on the positive instead of the negative.
A little night time magic
Always acknowledge the fear even if those monsters aren’t “real” (neither is the tooth fairy but she’s still believable). Then find a support strategy to help your child conquer her fear. Your child is strong and capable when she has a flashlight to shine on imaginary intruders. Or, tell your child that he is never really alone, that you check on him all night long. And take pictures of your child sleeping to prove it (capture weird sleeping positions and pose stuffed animals climbing into the bed).
Preschoolers live in a magical world where their emotional life is woven into everything they do and think. We teach them and love them best when build on those emotional connections.
Karen Deerwester is the owner of Family Time Coaching & Consulting, writing and lecturing on parenting and early childhood topics since 1984. Karen is also the Mommy & Me director at The Ruth and Edward Taubman Early Childhood Center at B�nai Torah Congregation in Boca Raton.
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