15 Tips for Kids Viewing the Solar Eclipse

Aug 08, 2017

In a perfect end to summer, some parts of North America, South America, Africa and Europe, will be able to view the August 21st solar eclipse. Depending on your location, you may be able to view at least a partial eclipse. Total eclipses are rare, with the last one the entire United States was able to view was in 1979. This is an event you won’t want your kids to miss. I’ve gathered 15 tips for kids viewing the solar eclipse, so your family can witness the rare event safely.

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What is a Solar Eclipse?

Perhaps the most stunning visual representation of planetary orbit, a solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between Earth and the Sun, eclipsing or covering the Sun from view from Earth anywhere from several minutes to several hours.

For a more thorough and kid-friendly explanation of a solar eclipse, check out this short video:

Why Can it be Dangerous to View an Eclipse?

As a child, I remember the chatter amongst friends in the days leading up to a partial eclipse. Playground talk was dominated by talk of going blind by looking directly at the eclipse, and tales of knowing someone who’d gone blind by ignoring the rule were regaled in hushed tones. So, what’s the truth behind it? Is it really dangerous to view a solar eclipse? Yes and no.

The odds of going completely blind by viewing a solar eclipse without proper eye protection are slim, but your eyes can be permanently damaged. Much like the way a camera works, staring directly at the Sun damages the retina, leaving an afterimage “burned” into our retina; you’ve likely experienced a similar effect having your picture taken with a flash in the dark. Most people can’t stare directly at the Sun on a normal day, but during a partial eclipse, sunlight is not as intense, tempting people to view the phenomenon without proper eye protection. Unfortunately, eyes can still be damaged, despite the ability to look directly into the Sun without the urge to squint. However, the Sun can be viewed with the naked eye during a total eclipse, but only during the time that the Moon is completely covering the Sun. This essay in Scientific American explains the science behind why and how eye damage occurs when viewing the Sun without eye protection.

Why are Eclipses a Big Deal?

While annular eclipses are common, the odds of being in an area to witneass a total solar eclipse makes this a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you have the opportunity to travel to an area that will experience a total solar eclipse, do it!

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How to Make the Most of the Eclipse

If you’re not in a position to travel to an area in the United States that will experience a total eclipse, all is not lost. Areas outside the band on NASA’s interactive maps will experience a partial eclipse, which is still a wonder to experience. Here are some ideas for making the most of your eclipse experience:

Eclipse Activies for Kids

A solar eclipse is the perfect way for children to take part in science -- they’ll be able to see it, experience the darkness and feel a noticeable temperature drop once the Sun is covered. So much about parenting is being able to spot teachable moments, and this is an exciting moment that everyone can enjoy.

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    1. If you have younger children, you can still get them excited and involved with free, downloadable solar system coloring pages from 123 Homeschool 4 Me.
    2. While many educational sites offer downloadable STEM activity kits for a low purchase price, NASA is offering a free, downloadable eclipse kit. NASA’s kit includes traditional activities involving cardboard, paper and pencils, as well as activities that utilize digital technology, such as a smartphone or camera. Families can choose from 14 activities, each with a recommended grade level, ranging from Kindergarten through 12.
    3. Get crafty and make a DIY pinhole camera with these instructions from NASA.
    4. Use this free download from NASA for a 2D/3D Pinhole Projector in the shape of the United States and/ or the state in which you’re viewing the solar eclipse.
    5. Craft an Eclipse Viewer from a cereal box with this Hila Science Camp activity.
    6. If your kids aren’t especially interested in the science behind solar eclipses, they might be interested to learn about solar eclipse myths from cultures around the globe. National Geographic discusses the origins of the many myths and legends that surround eclipses in different parts of the world.
    7. Bring a thermometer out with you, and take guesses on how far the temperature will plummet during the eclipse. As the Moon starts to move into position, watch the thermometer closely, you’ll likely be surprised by how cold it becomes during total eclipse!
    8. If you’re looking for a more low-key, less hands-on approach to learning more about solar eclipses, apps are the way to go. Space.com has done the work for you, and chosen 7 of the Best Total Eclipse Apps for August 21.
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Tips for Viewing the Eclipse

  1. If you’re simply looking for a quick reference guide to safely viewing the solar eclipse, NASA offers a quick, bulleted list of safety tips.
  2. Check to see if there are any eclipse events taking place locally and make a day of it! Many science centers, libraries, museums and planetariums will be hosting events across the country.
  3. If you’re purchasing glasses for viewing solar eclipse, beware of counterfeits. Many advantageous businesses are attempting to cash in on the solar eclipse...at the expense of safety. Use this guide from NASA to purchase glasses, or check to ensure that the glasses you’ve already purchased are safe for use.
  4. Plan a potty break. If you’re attending a viewing event, make sure everyone has used the restroom well in advance of the eclipse. The last thing you want to do is try to find a bathroom in the minutes leading up to the event (or being stuck in a bathroom during totality)!
  5. Take photos leading up to the event, but put the camera down during total eclipse so that you can fully enjoy it. When you’re done, NASA wants you to post your photos on social media with #EclipseSelfie.
  6. Take it in. Two-and- a-half minutes goes by quickly, so make the most of that time, free from distractions.
  7. After the eclipse, take time to record video of your child’s reaction to the once-in- a-lifetime event. You’re preserving the experience of a lifetime, something the entire family can look back on ten or twenty years down the road.

Experiencing a solar eclipse is an amazing opportunity for educating and spending time with our kids. If you’re crafty, you’ll enjoy making your own eclipse viewers, while those of you who are a little more hands-off (like myself), will enjoy exploring some of the eclipse apps with your kids. Please remember to view the eclipse safely, with proper eyewear or a projection device -- it only takes a few moments to irreparably damage your eyes. Most of all -- have fun!