On a dull and drizzle splashed day in Wexford, children came to the local library to learn about our magnificent star. They were taking part in a new initiative run by Libraries Ireland , a national reading plan for children in the Summer months. The idea is that the children read at least six books and collect small encouraging rewards along the way culminating with an awards event at the end. 'Summer Stars' is the name of this year's programme and of course my workshop, 'Stars Wonderful Stars' was a perfect fit.
My workshops always begin with an explanation of what we will try to do and how we will go about our efforts . Stressing the importance of our star in everyday life is paramount in my initial presentation. Making sure the children understand the very special existence of our Earth in relation to the Sun is central. Pointing out the fact that we do not have to wear a spacesuit to live or breathe. The planet gives us that gift and more for our entire lives.
Children between the ages eight to twelve took part in two groups.The language of the sun in general is unfamiliar to young children. However,using images from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) literally ignites interest . Soon words like prominences , sunspots and filaments become newly familiar and tangible by many hands drawing and interacting with these features on paper. Viewing the activities of the sun online is perfect, safe and informative. For this workshop it was helpful to find solar images entitled Dragon Tail and Monster prominence to engage the phenomenon of pareidolia. If you can see a familiar shape within the unfamiliar it helps to start a drawing and assist in producing something accurate. In the presentation I also included some of my own solar drawings , one with a hedgerow prom (sketch included in the slide show). The groups were amused when I told them that some of these eruptions are known as broccoli proms.
Indeed it was large prominences captured by SDO that inspired many of the children's drawings. While they were working I offered them techniques to make their drawings more textured or detailed but always encourage originality. You can see a selection in the slideshow above.
Never underestimate what a young child can learn about a subject that at first may seem to be for an older audience , or come across as a subject to be taken up later in life. Warnings about the dangers of looking at the sun are extremely important but so are sharing methods to view in perfect safety.
Within the workshop I included a simple map of the summer triangle with the names of the key stars Vega, Deneb and Altair. Every child drew the shape with the star names and the cardinal direction together with the best time to look up. With their simple pencil drawings they were primed to start exploring the summer night sky. Their drawings of solar features helped immerse them in the magnificent power of our star. Hopefully the children were stimulated to learn more about the many billions of stars awaiting their attention. It was delightful to cross- pollinate art , solar astronomy and reading . It was heartening to see the children take out books on the sun, stars and astronomy in general after the workshops.
Solar Dynamics Observatory - The Sun Now