A recent Space Week workshop was attended by a class of young children. They ranged in age from 8 years down to 5-year-olds. A sun based drawing activity seemed like fun to me. I delivered a simple explanation of the power of our nearest star. How a sunny day helps us to smile, and how the sun does so many things for us every day. My presentation was very colourful showing off solar features like sunspots and prominences. Sunspots for young children needed to be exciting and full of easy words.
I decided that drawing a sunspot would be achievable. Occasionally during workshops, I do a demonstration drawing to help kids to be more flowing in their efforts. Most kids will draw the edges of things and then try to add detail inside their shape. The shape they draw to start their effort dictates how the drawing progresses. Sometimes children get upset because their drawing has not started correctly in their heads. So a little guidence is a good thing.
In my demo tutorial, I try to get them to look at the sunspot for its shape, it's texture, colour and energy. The pages are black, the centre of the sunspot is black therefore there is no need to use black pastel to achieve a version of the umbra. Using pastels to mimic the shape of the penumbra around the umbra can be challenging for small kids. However, they do understand energy and drawing with energy. I don't use big words like umbra, penumbra at all. Just inside and outside of the sunspot plus an emphasis on the powerful energy involved. The main aim while working with this multi-age group was simply that sunspots on the sun are cool. The work produced by these young children was pretty also pretty cool.
In my experience never underestimate a five-year-old child's attention or capabilities. It is never too young to learn even a tiny bit about the sun and its features. It's never too young to learn a weeny bit about what the sun does for us all every day of our lives. If a child agrees that the sun shining makes us all feel better then that in itself is a good start. Bolting on the fact that it helps carrots and apples to grow is an easy progression towards understanding some of its function.
One 8-year-old child in this class actually knew that stars are born in a nebula. This kind of remarkable intelligence and understanding happens more often than you would expect. Young minds with special interests that delight the child and spark wonder in their peers. Perhaps I should rephrase my previous sentence to state that we should never underestimate a child's capabilities. Indeed we should seek the innate abilities in all children and support them. Each child got a ESO sticker that says " The Universe is my Playground" which is exactly right.
This is the Solar Dynamics Observatory that I showed the children at the end of the workshop. Lots of oohs and ahhs were heard during they video. They loved it, plus it shows sunspots - SDO 5 Year Video