Learning doesn’t have to be limited to the classroom! In this blog, Jumpstart’s family engagement expert, Maria Monarrez, presents ideas for parents, families, and caregivers to enhance learning at home through simple activities that you can do with your child.
Does your child love playing or watching soccer? Do they spend all day in the park collecting sticks, bugs, and leaves? Do they love staring up at the moon and the night sky? Even at a young age, children begin to develop their own unique passions and interests. And luckily, it’s easy to use these passions to spark learning all around you!
When you use your child’s own particular interests to develop an activity, they are more likely to enjoy it and stay engaged longer. In fact, our brains process information differently and more deeply when we are excited and interested in what we’re learning. By focusing on their interests, you can help your child connect prior knowledge to new knowledge and practice critical thinking. And, when a child is genuinely interested in the activity, they are more likely to work harder and longer at learning. 
When developing an activity, here are some things to think about:
For example, if your child is fascinated with looking at the moon in the night sky, encourage that interest and look for ways to connect it to fun learning opportunities.
Find songs that relate to the topic
(sung to “Farmer in the Dell”)
We’re going to the Moon,
We’re going to the Moon.
Put on your helmet, climb on board;
We’re blasting off real soon.
We’re walking on the moon,
We’re walking on the moon.
We’ll plant a flag and find some rocks.
We’re walking on the moon.
- Ask child to repeat the words moon and food.
- Point out that they both have the double “O,” which in this case makes a long “ooo” sound. Can your child think of other words that have that same long “ooo” sound? (You can share some examples if they have trouble: Soon, boot, choose, tooth, moose)
- Can your child think of words that rhyme with (have the same ending sound as) moon? (Tune, soon, loon, dune.)
For older children, you can introduce some facts about the planets with the below song:
The Planets ‘round the Sun
(Sung to: “Farmer in the Dell”)
The planets ‘round the Sun,
The planets ‘round the Sun,
There are eight in all
Traveling around the Sun.
Mercury is hot,
And Mercury is small.
Mercury has no atmosphere;
It’s just a rocky ball.
Venus has thick clouds
That hide what is below.
The air is foul; the ground is hot.
It rotates very slow.
We love the Earth our home,
Its oceans and its trees.
We eat its food; we breathe its air,
So no pollution, please.
Mars is very red.
It’s also dry and cold.
Some day you might visit Mars
If you are really bold.
Great Jupiter is big.
We’ve studied it a lot.
We found that it has lots of moons,
And a big, red spot.
Saturn has great rings.
We wondered what they were.
Now we know they’re icy rocks
Which we saw as a blur.
Uranus is far.
It’s cold and greenish-blue.
We found it rotates sideways,
And it has a lot of moons.
Neptune has a spot;
A stormy patch of blue.
The planet has a lot of clouds
And rings around it, too.
Research information online
Go to your local library with your child and research the moon, sun, planets, and stars. Ask them what they want to know about the moon and see if you can discover the answer together!
Visit a place based on the interest
If available, visit a local observatory, or see if a nearby college has a planetarium with events for the public. Local astronomy clubs may also host stargazing nights open to the public.
Find related vocabulary words
Picture cards can help children learn to read and spell new words. Draw or print out pictures from the internet of some simple astronomy terms, with the word written on top of or below the picture. Talk with your child about the image on each of the cards, and then have them use letter magnets or alphabet blocks to spell out the words. You can also make your own letters by using felt-tip markers to write letters on clothespins, and have the child pin the letters to the card in the correct order (see example, pictured right).
Some suggested vocabulary words:
Do an experiment: Phases of the Moon
Materials Needed: black box, Styrofoam ball, toothpick, clay, poster board of moon phases
- Tell your child(ren) you will be learning about the moon and the different phases (shapes).
- Ask the children if they’ve ever seen the moon. Allow them to share their experiences.
- Show the children the picture “Moon Phases” (see below)
- Explain that at certain times we see both the sunlit portion and the shadowed portion — and that creates the various moon phase shapes we are all familiar with.
- Note that the shadowed part of the moon is invisible to the naked eye.
- New moon occurs when the moon is positioned between the earth and sun.
- At a full moon, the earth, moon, and sun are in approximate alignment, just as the new moon, but the moon is on the opposite side of the earth, so the entire sunlit part of the moon is facing us. The shadowed portion is entirely hidden from view.
- The moon goes through a complete moon phases cycle in about one month (29.5 days)
- Next, tell the child(ren) they will be looking through your moon box to see the phases of the moon.
- Watch this video for instructions of how to perform this part of the experiment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ty4slSaYwgI&index=3&list=PLIePzewmxvlmFt46HDuNW1UEcieYlIWVC
- Allow each child to look through a different cut out of the box then turn on the flashlight.
- Once they’ve had a chance to see their phase, ask them to tell you which phase they saw by using the poster board.
- Encourage them to say the actual phase name.
- Once all children have pointed out their phase allow them to switch positions to see a different phase of the moon.
- Allow children to rotate until they lose interest.