Sky Puppies: Bring the Wonders of the Universe to Youth
Sky Puppy participants hard at work alongside the Kansas Astronomical Observers, learning and spotting constellations - vital work towards receiving their certificates and pins!  Photo Credit: Jerelyn Ramirez
 
Thanks to a joint effort by the  NASA Solar System Educational Consortium and the Astronomical League, there is now an AL Observing Program designed for youth 10 years old and younger - and it is available to the public! The Sky Puppies Observing Program consists of activities, observing objectives, and educational materials designed to ignite a life-long passion for astronomy. 

Children, paired with adult mentors, complete a set of projects designed to help them learn the night sky. Program participants will be able to identity and draw at least fifteen standard constellations, tell the difference between official constellations and popular asterisms,  tell at least two myths related to the constellations from any cultural tradition, and spot at least five deep-sky objects using binoculars by the end of the program.

logo for the Sky Puppies programYou can access more in-depth information about this  program from the Astronomical League’s website at www.astroleague.org/skypuppy. Participants learn about the constellations and how to identify them, stars, planets, how to read star charts, and the basics of space exploration, and of course, observing a list of objects in the night sky.

This Observing Program is designed children working alongside adult mentors, and can work with  individual, 1-on-1 settings, and as well as with teachers and youth leaders working with groups of children. It is available at no cost by contacting the Observing Program Coordinator at the Astronomical League, Aaron Clevenson, at aaron@clevenson.org

Jerelyn Ramirez, an NSN coordinator with the Kansas Astronomical Observers. has worked quite a bit with the Sky Puppies program, as seen in her photos above, and has had great experiences working with kids in this program, which she shares below:

"This program is great as a one-on-one program or as a group effort. Limit yourself on how many you can handle, 1 to 6 kids should keep you busy enough. Going to the library and partnering with them to use a quiet space to teach these kids the science of astronomy is an ideal place to do this. 30% of their time is classroom learning, and  70% s spent under the stars. I do think the best time of year to mentor a Sky Puppy is the fall and winter seasons, mostly because it gets dark earlier and doesn't greatly effect their bedtimes. The spring and summer months will keep these youngsters up pretty late at night because most of their training is at night under the stars. The trade-off is it can get pretty cold.

We met once a week at the library for an hour after school. There are 10 required projects the children must complete to earn their certificate and pin. I used the classroom time to of course, to study about constellations and stars. I did go over the life cycle of stars and helped them understand the vastness of space and much much more, things that were not a requirement to earn this achievement. I did this to not only fill in the time we had at the library but to expand their minds further because only 30% of the requirements were classroom time. I made it fun and entertaining while learning what they needed to learn.

I would invite the kids over to my backyard for the observing part of their studies, which is 70% of their required projects. The first observing experience I had the kids invite their parents, siblings, and friends to this outing. I knew they would be too excited to really learn anything, I just wanted them to have fun being out there and to be able to share the experience. This way they got past the WOW factor. I set up a couple of telescopes so we could look at whatever was available. We would do this on a Friday or Saturday night to not interfere with a school night (one child was home schooled). I would always encourage their parents to come out with them during the observing class time. I would limit this time for an hour to 90 minutes. Many times the parents would assist, which was extremely helpful. Not only were they a great help, they learned with their children, and were excited about it.

The weather (clouds), and the phase of the Moon, we both issues when the childen needed to point out the constellations they have drawn for their observing studies. Several times those constellations had set by the time the weather was clear enough, or the light from the Moon was no longer  a factor. However, this too was a good learning tool and experience, illustrating how the celestial heavens rotate around us through the seasons. It also served to hep them understand how the Moon affected our ability to see those faint stars and the Milky Way. Yes, I can see the Milky Way from my backyard on a Moonless night!

It took a total of 4 months to graduate all these kids. I invested about 27 hours to mentor them through this program. I was very proud of these kids; they did a fantastic job! I kept a couple of spreadsheets to track their progress to make sure they completed each program and how much time they invested in their attendance. Sometime they could not all be there at once due to their schedules. On some occasions I would call them at the last minute because the sky would clear enough for them to knock out a few observations but not all could come out. It still worked out great.

I'm looking forward to mentor another group this fall."
 

Last Updated: July 22, 2019
 
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