Every day this week in the Irish Independent we’ll have great ideas for keeping your kids busy, whatever they’re into
We love to tell our children to reach for the stars but, if we foster their interest in space exploration when they’re young, there’s a chance they might actually get there!
Aeronautical engineer Dr Norah Patten, on course to be Ireland’s first astronaut, honed her fascination with the night sky making model rockets from washing-up bottles. Chris Hadfield watched the moon landings at age nine and longed to fly. He started with kites, then model airplanes...then went on to orbit the Earth over 2,000 times.
“Not only could the youth of today become Ireland’s first astronauts, but they could join the ranks of existing Irish scientists building rockets, studying the stars and playing critical roles in space missions,” says Rob O’Sullivan, science communicator at CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory.
Even if your budding astronauts don’t walk on the moon, there’s plenty to be learned from exploring the night sky. “Both primary and secondary schools use space in their curriculums,” explains Sinéad Mackle, education and outreach manager at Armagh Observatory and Planetarium. “Primary schools will teach pupils to record, measure and test using space-themed challenges, while older pupils are introduced to physics through space activities.”
There’s also a wonderful sense of discovery associated with space. “Space features in a lot of children’s books, and can really help spark that sense of wonderment from a very early age. We would certainly encourage parents to foster that interest as it helps children learn about the world around them,” adds Sinéad.
So, whether it’s making a straw rocket or a tissue parachute, joining the dots to discover constellations, or helping clean up the galaxy, we hope your little star-gazers enjoy our tips for space camp at home. And who knows, it might be the launch pad for the next generation of space explorers.
Only one in 1,500 applicants make it into America’s elite space agency, but any budding astronaut can join NASA’s Kids’ Club. With the intention to ‘inspire, engage, educate and employ the next generation of explorers’, the online resource (
Train like an astronaut
Fancy something a bit more physical? Dr Norah Patten recommends checking out international Mission X challenge (
Go to the moon
Have a lunar landing without leaving your living room thanks to the Moon Globe app (available free to download on iOS and Android) which lets you check out craters up close, discover fascinating facts and even hold the moon in your hands. There’s a handy instruction video for how best to use the app on the Armagh Observatory Planetarium Facebook page.
Launch a straw rocket
This is a great one for younger children. Get them to draw their rocket onto paper and cut it out. Take a straw and make a ‘sleeve’ for it, wrapping paper around it and folding it over the top to create a pocket that you can tape to the back of a rocket which the straw can slide in and out of. Slide the straw into the sleeve and blow for blast off. (See
Clean up space
The European Space Agency has an Expedition Home page with activities for all ages that are out of this world. Screen-loving space cadets will love the computer games, like piloting an alien ship through the galaxy, cleaning space debris and fixing satellites.
Make an orbiting model
Conquer a complex concept with a simple model. Cut three circles out of a paper plate (one big and two smaller) and colour them in as the sun, Earth and moon. Cut two strips of paper from the rest of the plate and, using three split pins, connect one end of one strip of paper to the centre of the sun and the other to the centre of Earth. Use the second strip of paper to connect one end to the centre of Earth and the other end to the moon. Your moon and planet should now rotate as in space. See Armagh Observatory and Planetarium Facebook page for a demo video.
Find out your weight on Mars
Learn about gravity on different planets, make a parachute with just a tissue, four threads, tape and a lego figure and find out what falls fastest with dropping experiments (even adults might learn something new!) with the Science Foundation Ireland (
Explore the night sky
Blackrock Castle Observatory’s Daily Astro Challenges short videos are a brilliantly accessible way to learn from the experts and decipher what’s going on in the night sky. The
Another great way to make the night sky come alive is via AR apps like Sky Guide. Simply point your phone at the stars and discover the names of constellations, track the space station and even find out what direction the next meteor shower is coming from.