A total solar eclipse is an incredible thing — something I deeply believe should be experienced by adults and children alike. It literally illustrates how our solar system works as the moon travels directly between the sun and Earth. It is a science class brought to life in a way schools will never be able to re-create.
For kids, this could be a significant moment in their little lives. They could be inspired to learn more about space and science in general. For older students, it could trigger exciting new career goals. For you, parent, the eclipse will give you the opportunity to create a memory your children won’t forget.
As the big event gets closer, some schools have decided to close on Aug. 21, simply because they can’t handle the logistics of wrangling a thousand kids to watch the solar eclipse. That makes sense. It’s unfortunate for parents who aren’t going to be able to arrange child care that day, let alone child care that will help the kids watch the eclipse. But I understand the eclipse may be a burden — particularly when special equipment and planning is needed to ensure the kids are able to watch it safely.
Some of the letters I’ve read from schools to parents, though, have made me anxious. They include phrases like “the dangers of watching this event.” That can easily be interpreted as, “this event is dangerous and should not be watched.” I hate to think that kids — or anyone, really — missed out on the eclipse because they thought it was something to fear.
If your child’s school is closing, I hope the letter encourages parents to watch it with their kids and explains how to do it safely. If I were writing it myself, here’s what it would say:
A really exciting thing is happening on Monday, Aug. 21 — a solar eclipse! For many people, this may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see our solar system in action. And it’s a great teaching moment for our kids.
A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between Earth and the sun, blocking our view of the sun. The eclipse will occur across the continental United States on Aug. 21. It will start on the West Coast and end on the East Coast. Everyone in the continental U.S. will be able to see at least a partial eclipse on this day.
We can’t stare at the sun without protective eyewear, though. That means a little bit of preparation is needed before Aug. 21.
Here’s how to watch it safely with your kids:
If you aren’t able to get the special glasses, there are other ways to “watch” and enjoy the solar eclipse:
— One way is through a camera obscura. Take a box — a shoebox works well — and poke a very small hole in it on one end. When you point the hole toward the sun during the eclipse, you’ll be able to see the moon covering up the sun on the opposite side of the box, where the light shines through.
— You can also watch the ground for something special. It’s similar to the way that you can see the eclipse in a camera obscura shoebox. The space between leaves creates little holes where the light passes through, and the result is thousands of little solar eclipse shadows on the ground.
— You might also enjoy paying attention to how the ambient light changes during the eclipse. It may become a little bit cooler, too. Animals may become very quiet — or perhaps your neighborhood dogs will start barking! It will be fascinating to see how nature responds to this event.
The most important thing is to enjoy this special event safely with your child — no matter how you decide to view it. It will be a memory you’ll never forget.
Science enthusiast/Space nerd
Here’s a list of eclipse glasses brands and vendors from the American Astronomical Society:
More about the total solar eclipse