You and your child will make a simple projector to view models of constellations.
Learning Area(s): Science; Sensory and Art
- a dark room
- 3 or more toilet paper tubes
- constellation patterns (printable)
- a sharp object to poke holes (like a push pin)
- tape or rubber band
- light source: flashlight or smartphone light
Begin by asking your child what they know about stars. Talk about why stars can be seen at night but not during the day. You might like to provide more information like, “Did you know that the stars we see in the night sky are giant balls of glowing gas, just like our Sun? A group of stars that forms a shape is called a constellation. The stars in each constellation are very far away from each other, but if you were to draw lines like you’re doing a connect-the-dots puzzle, you can see the shape of a person, animal, or object. Long ago, the position of a constellation in the sky helped farmers figure out what month or season it was so they knew when to plant and harvest their crops. Constellations also helped sailors know which direction to point their ships at night. Farmers and sailors could find these groups of stars easily because they are some of the brightest in the night sky. When it’s very dark out, we can see them too!
“Now you get to make constellation projectors so that you can look at constellation patterns on a wall.” Look at the page of constellation patterns with your child and have them choose 3 or more to make.
Make the projector tube • Watch a how-to video!
- Have your child cut out each constellation they will project.
- Have your child cut along the dotted lines to make small flaps.
- Center the circle over one end of the toilet paper tube with the constellation facing you. Secure the flaps with tape or a rubber band.
- Carefully monitor your child or assist as they poke the push pin through each star in the constellation pattern. The larger stars on the patterns represent the brightest stars. Place the push pin aside in a safe place.
- After your child has made the projector tubes, take the tubes and a flashlight to a very dark room.
- Have your child position the light against the open side of the tube to project the constellation on the wall. Look for the arrow on the constellation pattern to show which way is up. Try standing close to the wall at first and then backing up to see how best to view the constellation pattern.
Observe each constellation with your child and discuss how each star they see in the pattern is a star just like our Sun. Have them describe the shape(s) they see (for example, how the Big Dipper looks like a ladle or pot). Your child might enjoy reading the story of each constellation as they study the projection.
- Instead of toilet paper tubes, you could use wrapping paper or paper towel tubes cut down to about 4 inches.
- Consider reading books about constellations, stars, and other objects in the night sky:
- Our Stars by Anne Rockwell
- The Sky is Full of Stars by Franklyn M. Branley
- Spots of Light: A Book About Stars by Dana Meachen Rau
- Stargazers by Gail Gibbons
- The Big Dipper by Franklyn M. Branley
- Wishing on a Star: Constellation Stories and Stargazing Activities for Kids by Fran Lee
- Once Upon a Starry Night by Jaqueline Mitton
- Sky Gazing: A Guide to the Moon, Sun, Planets, Stars, Eclipses, and Constellations by Meg Thacher
- Constellations for Kids: An Easy Guide to Discovering the Stars by Kelsey Johnson
- Learn more about constellations on the NASA Space Place website. Read about each constellation on DK FindOut!
- To extend the activity, have your child draw and label each constellation in their science notebook. They can connect the dots to help them see the picture.
- You might like to use an app that helps you identify constellations and/or use a telescope or binoculars to investigate the night sky.