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Star Guide

Check out the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge 2014 "Reading Under the Stars" star constellation guide!

Identify Constellations[1]

The basics: Sometimes you have to take a minute and just watch the world around you. Go outside at night. You might want to take a few blankets because it might be chilly out. Then look up at the stars and see if you can spot some of the most common constellations, like the Big Dipper or Orion.

Challenge: Don’t stop at just one or two—find more constellations. Check out a book about stars from your local library, and then look for some of those lesser-known groupings. They are just as much fun to find as the bigger ones.

Connect the Constellation Dots

ConstellationWhat better way to celebrate sleeping under the stars (if you haven't yet, click here to pledge to be part of the 2014 Great American Backyard Campout, a fun-filled night right in your own back yard!) then to spend some time actually tracing the constellations in the night sky — it's a grand game of "Connect the Dots!"

On a piece of paper, draw all the different shapes you see in the night sky. Later, refer to a star guide and see if any of your sketches match the constellations listed on the page.

You can also make your own constellation! Cover a sheet of paper with a random assortment of dots. See what shapes you and your child can find among the "stars" on the paper. Don't forget to give names to your constellations! Sometimes constellations come with old folk stories on how they came to appear on the sky. With your own constellations you've named - create a fun or silly story on how your special stars came to be.

Night Sky

Does the sky look the same all night? Investigate this question with your child while camping out!

What You'll Need

  • 3 Index Cards
  • Black Marker

What You'll Do

  1. Have you child draw identical pictures of the front of your house, apartment building, or camping site on all three cards. Have your child include any front walkways, trees or shrubs.
  2. Go outside and face your home and look at the sky. On one of the index cards, have your child draw the stars and the moon as they appear in the sky.
  3. Repeat this activity an hour later, and then two hours later.

What You Talk About

  • What is the same in your drawing? (The houses or campsite building, walkaway, trees, shrubs, etc.)
  • What is different? (The position of the moon and stars in the sky.)
  • What does this show? (The stars and moon seem to change position in the sky over time.)

Spend a whole night under the stars with your kids, spotting constellations, observing the moon and more. Pledge to participate in this year's Great American Backyard Campout.

Ranger Rick® Star Search

The North Star is a star you can count on.

What is so special about the North Star?
It's not the brightest star in the night sky. But it's the one star that's always in the same place. As our planet spins on its axis, all the other stars overhead appear to wheel around a slow merry-go-round. The North Star is right in the center of that merry-go-round.

Does it really show which way is north?
Yes. It hangs right above the North Pole. That's why its other name is Polaris (pol-LAIR-iss). Long ago, sailors and explorers counted on Polaris to guide them after dark. Stargazers still use it to help them line up their telescopes.

When should I look for it?
Go outside on a clear night (or when you're camping!). If you can get away from the city lights, you'll see the starts much better. And if the moon is new or just a sliver, the stars will look extra bright.

Where should I look?
Start by finding the shape of the Big Dipper. It's one of the easiest star pattersn to see. Now look for two starts at the end of the Dipper's cup, farthest from the handle. They point the way to Polaris. Draw an imaginary line through these "pointer" stars straight on to the next bright star. That's the North Star. It's also the last star in the handle of the Little Dipper. Sometimes the Big Dipper will be right side up, sometimes upside down—but this trick always works. Look for the North Star at different times of the night and continue watching it in each season. As the other stars circle around, the faithful North Star will always be there for you.

Observing the Moon

Be nocturnal, like those flying squirrels! Explore the wonders of the moon with your children! Once outside, ask them:

  • MoonWhere is the moon in the sky? (High, low, nowhere to be seen?)
  • What color does it appear to be (White, orange, yellow- or some other color?)
  • What size and shape? (Does it look like a fingernail, a piece of cheese or some other shape?)
  • Do you see anything unusual about it? (Is there a face in the moon?)

As a follow up to campout, observe the moon together a few times after sleeping under the stars to learn more about the moon's cycle.

Keep A Moon Journal

This can be a great activity to either proceed or follow up your moon observations at campout and helps introduce your child to the phases of the moon.

What You'll Need:

  • A spiral notebook or notebook paper
  • A pencil
  • A large coin or small lid

What You'll Do: 

  1. Each evening, go outside with your child and try to find the moon in the sky. (Hint: This also can be done weekly).
  2. Use the coin or lid to trace a circle in your notebook for each day (or week). In the circle, sketch the shape of the moon as you observe it.
  3. For each observation, record the date, time and—if you know it—the direction. If weather conditions keep you from observing the moon, make a note of that, too. 
  4. Over the course of one month, make as many observations as you can.

A lunar month is the time between phases of the moon (ie., from one full moon to the next full moon). Based on your observations, how many days long is a lunar month? What do you notice about the time and direction you recorded in your first and last observations?

Helpful Hints: The moon follows the same approximate path across the sky as the sun but it may rise very early or very late, depending upon its current path. Remember, too, that during the "new moon" phase, there will be no visible moon in the sky.

Take A Moon Walk

A shining full moon turns an ordinary night into something special. Shadows stretch into strange long shapes. Silvery light touches everything with magic. It’s a perfect time to go exploring.

Ready for an adventure? A night or two before or after the next full moon (hopefully during your campout event), the moon will still be shining brightly. Just walk around your camping site.

If you can, try to get away from the city lights so the moon won't be outshone. Take a flashlight for safety, but keep it tucked in a pocket unless you really need it. The longer you stay out in the dark, the better your night vision will become—and the more you’ll discover!

Listen for hooting owls, wind in the trees and other night sounds. Lie down and look up at the starry sky. Enjoy the calm and quiet.

For an extra scary effect- tell one of the great campfire ghost stories.

This year’s Great American Backyard Campout is June 22 – the night before a full moon – perfect timing for a moon walk! Pledge to participate and get our full list of fun camping activities you can do with your kids.


1Content and images from the book The Kids' Outdoor Adventure Book: 448 Great Things to Do in Nature Before You Grow Up*, by Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer. Copyright © 2013 by Morris Book Publishing, LLC. Used by permission of FalconGuides

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