Hop on a rocket ship and in three days we will reach Earth’s only natural satellite, the moon! It’s the only other place that humans have set foot on outside of Earth. Learn about the moon’s different “faces” in these moon phases for kids lessons and activities.
What are moon phases?
Each night the moon looks a little different. These changes in shape are called moon phases. The Moon itself isn’t actually changing, but the part that we see does! Just like the Earth, the moon can’t make its own light. The only light in our solar system comes from the Sun. What we see as “moonlight” is sunlight reflecting off the moon’s surface. The Sun’s light always comes from one direction and light’s up the part of the moon that is facing it. As the moon travels its orbit around the Earth, the sun lights up different parts. Sometimes it lights up the whole face of the moon that faces us (full moon), while other times we can see only a sliver. It takes about 27 days for the moon to complete one orbit around the Earth, but because we are also moving in our own orbit around the Sun, from Earth’s perspective it takes 29 days for the moon to finish its lunar cycle. Tricky!
Activity: create a moon phase calendar and calculator
Visit NASA’s website for this handy moon phase calendar viewing wheel tool. They have all the dates and times already worked out for us this year. Check back again for their updated calendar in 2022.
Visit: Moon Phases Calendar and Calculator – NEW for 2021
Did you know our moon is always turning to show us the same face? We only get to see one side of the moon. This is the result of tidal locking. It takes the same amount of time for the moon to spin one turn on its axis as it takes for it to orbit once around the Earth. We call the side of the moon facing us the “near side” and the opposite side, the “far side”.
There are 8 moon phases in the lunar cycle:
1. New Moon
The New Moon happens when the moon is between the sun and the earth. From our view, the sun is behind the moon leaving the side that faces us dark. It rises at sunrise and sets at sunset. This photo is just after the new moon when only a sliver is starting to become visible.
2. Waxing Crescent
In the Waxing Crescent phase, the part of the moon that is facing us gets more sunlight each night making more of the moon light up. Waxing means to grow. The crescent moon is any time less than half the moon is visible.
3. First Quarter
At the First Quarter phase, the moon has finished 1/4 of its orbit and is perpendicular to the line between the Earth and the Sun. We see half the moon lit up by the Sun while the other half stays in shadow. It rises at noon and sets at midnight.
4. Waxing Gibbous
In the Waxing Gibbous phase, we see the moon’s lit shape continue to grow up to 99.9%.
5. Full Moon
The Full Moon occurs when the Earth is between the moon and the Sun which lights up the moon’s whole face. It has travelled 1/2 of its orbit, rising at sunset and setting around sunrise.
6. Waning Gibbous
In the Waning Gibbous phase, the moon starts to get less sunlight each night and shrinks from 99.9% to 50.1%. Waning means to get smaller.
7. Third Quarter
The Third or Last Quarter phase is when the other half of the moon is lit up by the Sun. It has now finished 3/4 of its trip around the Earth and sits at a 90-degree angle to the Sun. This is also sometimes called a half moon, rising at midnight and setting at noon.
8. Waning Crescent
The last phase is the Waning Crescent phase. The moon’s lit shape gradually gets smaller until the shape of the moon disappears completely (new moon).
Activity: watercolor resist moon phase cards
• watercolour paints
• watercolour paper or heavy cardstock
• white wax crayon
• circle template (cup works)
1. Divide your paper sheet into quarters and cut. Make 8 pieces in total.
2. Help your child label each of the cards at the bottom in their best handwriting. Draw a circle above each label once you are done.
3. Use your white crayon to color in the section of the moon that is visible in each moon phase. For example, you would color the left half of your moon shape for the first quarter. For our younger learners, try using a light grey crayon so they can see their work.
4. Paint over your moon phase with your watercolors, using a dark blue or even black will really make their moon shapes stand out. Let dry and then display.
FREE Moon Phases Journal
There is nothing more magical than taking a moonlit walk with our children. They think they are the luckiest kids in the world to be able to sneak out past their bedtime and find that beautiful moon in the sky. Sign up for our newsletter at the end of this post to get your FREE Moon Journal to sketch and record your observations throughout the month. Of course, there will be some times of the month when our moon rises too late or the clouds are too thick. At these times head over to https://moonphases.co.uk/ to discover what the moon looks like today. You’ll also find a FREE Moon Phases Spinner to practice the lunar cycle.
What is a Supermoon?
The moon’s orbit around the Earth is shaped like an oval, bringing it closer and father from us as it travels around. When the moon is at its fathers point to the Earth, it is called the apogee while we call its closet point the perigee. When a full moon happens during the perigee, its called a Supermoon because it is just a little big bigger (7%) and can look brighter in the sky.
Activity: moon painting tutorial
Celebrate what we have learned with this beautiful step-by-step acrylic painting tutorial of the moon. Use the photo of the moon from your Moon Myths from Around the World activity (see link above) to help you add in all those interesting dark and light shapes that make up the moon’s crater.
Visit: How to paint the moon
FREE Moon Nature Poetry and Copywork
Head over to our Nature Poetry and Copywork page to download your free Moon Themed poetry and copywork to complement your moon phase studies!
Walking on the moon
On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong was the first person to step on the moon. He and fellow astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin explored the surface for three hours, collecting specimens and conducting experiments. Since then a total of tweve people have done the “moon walk”. The Earth only has about 1/6th of Earth’s gravitational force. This means we weigh a lot less on the moon and are able to leap great bounds with just a little step. Fun!
In an interview, astronaut Buzz Aldrin describe his experience of the moon: “It has lots of fine, talcum-powder like dust mixed with a complete variety of pebbles, rocks, and boulders…The dust is a very fine, overall dark gray. And with no air molecules to separate the dust, it clings together like cement. If you examine it under a microscope, you can see it’s made up of tiny, solidified droplets of vaporized rock resulting from extreme velocity impacts, like an asteroid from outer space hitting the surface over millions of years”
Activity – learn about the moon landings
Explore this interactive map from the Smithsonian of of all 21 successful moon landings!
Visit: Moon Landings Interactive Map
Activity – create scale models of the Earth to the moon
The moon is the fifth largest moon in our solar system. With a diameter of 3, 475 km it is about 27% the width of the Earth. It’s surface area is almost 38 million square kilometers. This sounds huge but it’s less than the continent of Asia which has 44.5 million square km, and only 7.4% the surface area of the whole Earth (about 510 million square km). Check out this chart by NASA comparing more measurements of the moon and the Earth. This is a great opportunity for some nature math. Compare each category of numbers to calculate the ratio or percentage of the moon to Earth and then draw or use playdough to create your own “to scale” models of these two celestial bodies.
Read: Earth’s Moon
Activity: design your own lunar colony
Design a new lunar colony on the moon. What type of facilities would you need? How would you get food? What type of environment would you be living in? Where would you get your water? Would you design your facility with a gravity generator or not? If you have vehicles, how would they operate? What type of activities would you do? Moon mountain climbing? What would this look like? Draw your colony design and present your proposal to your family!
Night Sky Curious Trails Unit Study
Join us as we take an ‘out of this world’ adventure to learn all about the night sky and the moon in this family-style unit study! Throughout each CURIOUS TRAILS NATURE STUDY you’ll find open-and-go topic study guides and lots of hands-on-activities ranging from S.T.E.M. projects, art invitations, nature journaling, cooking together, and more! This unit is divided into 4 weekly nature lessons with activities that follow and ideas for our younger and older learners. Come together for our unit celebration to discover nature poetry and art, while enjoying delicious Vanilla Almond Star cookies!
Enjoy your moon week!
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