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The Night Sky with Kids

When kids ask about the moon, here's what we can tell them...

by Rae Richen

Many years ago, on a warm summer night, we visited the park with our nine neighbor children. We wanted to learn about the night sky. With us, we carried H.A. Rey’s great book Find the Constellations. We also had a flashlight covered with red cloth to make it possible to read without losing our night vision, and blankets, so we could look up without craning our necks.

The kids began asking about the phases of the moon. All of us were having trouble remembering how to tell if the moon is waxing or waning. So I made up a rhyme.

The waning moon is sad and bereft. The waning moon is white on the left. The waxing moon is happy and bright. The waxing moon is white on the right.

Here is what that looks like through the month, thanks to at

The Waxing and Waning Moon

Well, of course I had to explain the word bereft. But after I defined it, we had a lot of grief-stricken play-acting in the night park. The children tried to shine the flashlight on their own faces to show waxing and waning. They made faces to go with bereft waning and happy waxing.

And I didn’t yet own a camera. Darn!

My bit of doggerel has since passed down to my own children, and as they grow old enough to wonder about the night sky, it has passed to their children. I guess that’s the beginning of a mnemonic becoming folk wisdom.

In the present day, thanks to the internet, there are fun ways to visualize the moon, our earth’s shadow on the moon, and the light of the sun on the moon as the moon goes in and out of our shadow.

Lunar Sunset

Image of the sky over a village. Painting shows the cycles of the moon at sunset. Two weeks into its four week cycle, the full moon rises as the sunsets.
The full moon rises as the sun sets at two weeks through its four week cycle.

I’ve also found some fun sites that explain the moon phases. Have fun with the following:

As seen from earth. Pretend to be standing on that watery planet in the middle.


The phases of an eclipse of the moon, during which the dark of the moon is a brownish red color on a good cler night.
Now look up the meaning of a Blood Moon. This one is fun to understand.

Want more information? H.A. Rey, of Curious George fame, wrote and illustrated a very clear book about the night sky. Still in print and still fun to share with adults and children. Find the Constellations.

Rey's illustrations make it easy to remember the real shape of the constellation AND the Greek stories that often are associated with them.

On understanding the moon phases, here are two good sites I found:

1 Comment

I love that rhyme! Now make up a tune - then kids will really remember it. I also love the picture in Virginia Lee Burton's The Little House. That book is good for so many lessons on nature and ruminating in the meadow! Thanks for all the resources.

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