Saturday, October 8, 2011


"The Sun, with all the planets revolving around it, and depending upon it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as though it had nothing else in the Universe to do."

-Galileo Galilei

I sincerely apologize for the formatting errors in this post. I have been fighting with Blogger for several hours, and I have lost.

The children have been studying astronomy. Astronomy is one of the more difficult units of study for pre-school aged children, because it does not lend itself as easily to concrete experiences with the subject matter. I wanted to begin our unit of study with as concrete an experience as possible, and for that, we needed to schedule a field trip. Now, the idea of undertaking a field trip three weeks into the beginning of the school year might sound daunting to anyone who has taught young children, but one of the virtues of our year-round schedule is that the majority of our students are returning students who attended during the summer. As a result, we are largely able to continue our studies, without requiring a significant re-adjustment or review period at the beginning of each year. We believe that this continuity and sustained academic engagement is an significant benefit to our students.

To begin our unit of study, the children took a field trip to the University of Colorado campus to visit Fiske Planetarium and the Sommers Bausch Observatory. Fiske Planetarium features a Zeiss Mark VI optic star projector, under the largest planetarium dome between Chicago and Los Angeles. Sommers Bauch Observatory features a 24" diameter research grade telescope, 16" and 18" computer controlled telescopes, a solar telescope, giant binoculars, and the world's largest star wheel, beneath a retractable roof which rolls off to expose the public viewing area.

After a short bus ride to Boulder, we arrived at the planetarium. None of the children had ever viewed a star show at a planetarium before; so the children were very excited. The children were viewing a program entitled Kids in Space.
The anxious children piled into the planetarium, admired the projection equipment, and took their seats. The children learned why the moon appears to change its shape, took an imaginary trip to each planet in the solar system, calculated how much they would weigh on the surface of the moon, learned about asteroids and comets, and learned about the electromagnetic spectrum and how astronomers use x-rays to learn more about the universe.

Afterwards, the children visited Fiske's interactive science museum. The children were particularly interested in the large meteorite, which they learned had been part of an asteroid that was likely to have been the size of a building and large enough to have volcanic activity. They were also very interested in learning about the dark volcanic maria and prominent impact craters on the moon and they really enjoyed interacting with this sculptural relief of the surface of the moon.

The children also had the opportunity to view several telescopes, and to learn about their role in the observation of remote objects. They were particularly delighted with the observatory, and the idea that the roof could retract. I only wished that we could return as a group for one of the evening open houses!
At the conclusion of our visit, the children convened on the lawn for a "special treat" of astronaut ice cream, which they enjoyed while reading Max Goes to the Moon, a book in an amazing series written by a former University of Colorado PhD candidate in astrophysics.

All too soon, it was time for the children to pile back into the bus and return to the school for lunch.

The children continued their scientific explorations in the classroom, where they used orreries and planet cards to learn about the general characteristics, relative position, and the motions of the planets. The children also learned to identify some basic constellations using these constellation matching cards.

The children ordered planet cards based upon their relative distance from the sun,

and performed visual matching activities in which they matched identical pictures of planets and objects from the solar system.

Children who can read non-phonetic words, read and matched labels to cards with their corresponding pictures.

The children used models to understand how the rotation of the Earth on its axis creates the phenomena of day and night.

The children worked on a challenging 180 piece puzzle showing an image of the Earth taken from space.

Children made labeled diagrams of the solar system,

read high-quality, age appropriate literature about astronomy, and even made some books of their own. One girl came up with the idea of using Metal Insets and the circle drawer of the Geometric Cabinet, to produce her own nice little booklet about the solar system,

which she proudly shared with the rest of the classroom in the Author's Chair (an opportunity for children to read their own compositions to the class).

An older child, conducted her own research project, in which she read several books about the solar system and produced her own book report. This page reads "Solar is Latin for sun. Everything in our solar system orbits the sun. The sun is a star. "
In the coming weeks, we will continue our inquiry into astronomy by learning about the history of space exploration. As part of the unit, the children will be learning about rockets and forces. Children will learn about gravity, thrust, and drag. They will be introduced to the personage of Issac Newton and have the opportunity to construct and launch their own single stage model rocket.

We would like to sincerely thank Fiske Planetarium and the Bausch Sommers Observatory for their hospitality and their commitment to educating young people. To learn more about Fiske Planetarium, and upcoming star shows, please visit their website at

To learn more about Bausch Sommers Observatory, please visit their website at

Bausch Sommers Observatory conducts free public open houses on their observing deck on every Friday night that the University of Colorado is open, beginning at 8pm. We encourage our families to take advantage of this amazing, free opportunity to enjoy stargazing with your child. More information about their open houses can be found at

We would also like to thank St. Vrain Valley School District Transportation for supplying the transportation for our field trip.

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