December is the party season. Schools all over the country have been in the throes of parties. This is a Good Thing. For many children it’s their only experience of traditional party games such as “Pass the Parcel”, “Musical Bumps”, “Hunt the Thimble” and “Pin the Tail on the Donkey”. It’s an opportunity to dress up nicely and have a different social school experience.
However, for those who are real outdoor party animals, the festival season continues into winter where the short days and clear, cold skies can be the perfect setting for a star party. The Dark Sky Discovery Project has a super booklet which can be freely downloaded. It gives a step-by-step introduction to studying the stars…and some tips about how to organize a star party.
A full moon is not advised. This is not through fear of werewolves gate crashing. Although I’m sure half the teenage population would be delighted if Taylor Lautner who stars as Jacob Black in New Moon made a surprise entrance. A bright moon is too intrusive and according to the “Things are looking up” manual, a crescent moon is more interesting.
The trick is finding a dark, safe venue. This is quite likely to be a school playing field where there is a good view of the sky. Everyone has to be very warmly dressed and the manual suggests “warm fruit drinks, hot nibbles (mince pies or sausage rolls, etc.), a meteor shower, the crescent moon and a bright planet” will all enrich your event.
Whilst star parties are aimed at any age group, the winter is the time to get children out. By 4.30pm it can be dark enough to see the stars. A Curriculum for Excellence has experiences and outcomes at all science levels that explicitly encourage practical observations of the night sky. Watching the night sky come out is the best way to work out which constellation is which.
Emergency precautions are easy to put in place should the clouds decide to hang out with you. If you stick luminous stars to the underside of a black golf umbrella then this can mimic the night sky. Get the children familiar with the Greek legends that gave us the names of so many constellations. A simple dramatization of the story of Cassiopeia, for example, can help explain the position of the stars which represent different parts of her body. In the night sky Cassiopeia is near Perseus and Andromeda, the other characters in the legend. Play team guessing games with torches shining through cards with different constellations – use tiny holes to represent the stars.
All-in-all, star gazing and star parties are just lovely ways of spending a little time outside. With the snowy weather hitting Britain right now, perhaps the best finale is some night time sledging and tubing. Have fun!