Under The Stars

Space…The final frontier.

The dulcet baritone of Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek echoes in my head as I write this post. I’ve loved the stars for as long as I can remember. As a child, I was fascinated  by space travel and the probes sent out into the distant solar system. Fast forward a couple of years, and I nearly wore out a certain volume of my family’s 1990 Encyclopedia Britannica as I explored the life cycle of stars and everything else related to the universe.

At one stage, I even managed to procure a small refracting telescope.  I remember balmy Brisbane evenings, out the front of my childhood home, finding Jupiter and Venus through the telescope lens, and then  dragging my entire family out to have a look. (Unfortunately by the time they got outside, the object has usually moved, and no matter of diligent searching on my part could find it again!).

For a while, my love of the stars was drowned out in the busyness of study, work, marriage and family commitments. But no longer. I am having a renaissance, and it’s mainly thanks to my children. As the children grow, I can’t help looking at the heavens and pointing what I see to them.  Their enthusiasm sparked something inside of me, and as they become more interested in the subject, I find my passion returning.

“Their enthusiasm sparked something inside of me, and as they become more interested in the subject, I find my passion returning.”

Interestingly, I have found the topic, that I so love, has given me a opportunity share and bond with my children. I want to share with you some of the ways I share this passion with my children. Most of these have not been planned, but have sprung for my own interest in the subject and the delight my children have in sharing the experience with me. It’s been more about weaving it into our lives together.

“I have found the topic, that I so love, has given me a opportunity share and bond with my children.”

1. Make the Most of Opportunities

Some evenings, I will be outside, and fortuitously see the International Space Station streak across the sky. I call the children out to watch it with me. This is not something that is planned, it’s actually something I could just enjoy by myself, but it’s so much more fun to share it with the kids and watch their excitement. This then opens up a Pandora box of questions like, “What’s that star?” and “What’s that galaxy?”  We are usually pulled from this world of wonder by mosquito bites, and we then know it’s time to go inside again. There are many such opportune moments to capitalise on as we live life.

Tip: I use the Star Walk iPhone app which acts as a real time guide to the night sky.

Matching the night sky with a scale model.

talking about the stars with kids

2. Prompts

I love finding images from the great Observatories of the world (NASA, Hubble, Spitzer, Chandra, Alma) and use these as the screen saver on my computer, which happens to be in the dining room. Often during dinner, the children notice an image on the computer, which gives an easy opening to discuss more about the picture. So in a way, the screen saver becomes an interesting dinner table conversation starter.

Horse Head Nebula in the Orion Constellation

Horse Head Nebula in Orion

3. Media

I’m always on the look out for astronomy related news in the media to share with the children. This might be the anniversary of the landing on the moon, a lunar eclipse  or other significant astronomical event.

Neil Armstrong walks on the moon on July 20, 1969 — image credit

neil armstrong first man to walk on the moon 20 july 1969

4. Research

Sometimes my children ask questions that are difficult to answer like “What’s in a black hole?” “Why is it dark on one side of the word and not the other?” and “How big is a star?” Together, we research videos on YouTube and books to explore the question.

Explaining how the earth goes around the sun using an orange as a prop

sun earth dk universe book

How big is a star?

5. Plan a special outing

On our 2011 road trip, we made a point of visiting the Warrumbungle Observatory  in NSW. Below is one of the pictures I took with our own digital SLR camera through the telescope. I hope it’s an experience the kids will remember fondly.

The Jewel Box as taken at Warrumbungle observatory 21 July 2011The Jewel Box as taken at Warrumbungle observatory 21 July 2011

It saddens me, how much I miss of the children’s lives because of my work. However, it’s such a joy to share something I love with my children, and amazing how effortlessly it can fit into normal family life; it’s quality time.

I think this same approach would work with many subjects and I encourage any Dads out there to do the same. Share the things you’re interested in with your kids, and find ways to incorporate them into family life.

Albert Einstein said, “watch the stars, and from them learn” (who am I to argue with the great man?), and I find there’s nothing more satisfying than sharing moments under the stars with my children.

“There’s nothing more satisfying than sharing moments under the stars with my children.”

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  • Reply
    January 30, 2012 at 9:55 am

    thanks for sharing this Matt! I remember star gazing with you – very special memories!!

  • Reply
    January 30, 2012 at 10:54 am

    Hi Matthew,

    Your wife is a much admired woman in my eyes & this post made me teary as it could have been written by my husband too. Your kids are blessed to have you both at the helm! He and our 3 year old do similar with planes & helicopters. Your approach is one we take with my 3 year old & will with the baby when he is old enough too. I love that you’ve reignited an old love. We are space geeks too (I’m an event manager & did some work with the International Space University managing their travelling Uni program and met astronauts and other cool space people too!) & it’s something our whole family shares.

    Great to read your post!


  • Reply
    January 30, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    Great, great post!

  • Reply
    January 30, 2012 at 11:18 pm

    Thanks for this fantastic post BeAFunDad!!! We were just at Warrumbungle Observatory on Australia Day last week, at the end of our roadtrip and we all absolutely loved it.

    • Reply
      February 4, 2012 at 11:16 am

      Isn’t it great!? Did you get to meet Peter Starr? And look through his telescopes?

  • Reply
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