Our History Is Written In The Stars – constellations and Greek mythology

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At the beginning of the calendar year we found ourselves without a nature group to fulfill the natural sciences I wished to have in the kids’ schedule. One morning impulsively I went to our school shelves and picked up a book I had seen a few days earlier while straightening some items. It was not one I had planned to use and was not on any recommended book list from AO. Yet what it was is exactly what I needed – something I could open and go with, providing a lesson in a very short time, covering an aspect of nature we had not previously studied. The Dover Constellations of The Night Sky coloring book showed not only how the constellations are made by certain stars but also had a coloring picture to go along with the history of the constellation, history of its name and place among various cultures. While this is a coloring book it is not aimed at young children. The 10-14 year olds have just as much fun coloring or listening along as any younger kids might.

Oh how much I too am learning while going through this topic. We really are removed from our natural environment more than our ancestors. Some of the constellations are thousands of years old with stories that show the beliefs of the cultures at that time. Others are known in various cultures by different names or have been changed over time to fit with a particular culture’s history.

The passing of the stars marked time in ages before clocks. They tracked the path of the sun, heralded the coming of meteor showers, and showed how (unknown at the time) planets did not behave the same as other stars. They were a source of stories, of history, or explanations of how and why things around us work as they do. While we may laugh at some of those stories they are woven through literature and language. Knowing those stories will help us all understand our common history more thoroughly.

When I chose the first constellation Jack quickly told me about the story from Age of Fable which covered the history of this particular constellation’s character. He was right! It lined up very well with the Greek mythology we were also studying. It was that day I decided to offer to teach astronomy (mainly constellations) to our informal co-op group. As I told them, “It lines up with something all of our kids are reading and I will be teaching it either way to my kids…if you would also like your kids to learn a bit about constellations and their history feel free to meet us a few minutes before the typical group time and I will teach your kids as well.”

From that we ‘officially’ added astronomy to our co-op options. Yes, we have a very formal process in place when it comes to adding classes.

In addition to the Dover book I have also used Astronomy Thematic Unit to go into further detail about some topics, as well as resources on the web. The Astronomy book can be used as a unit study of astronomy in general or to highlight various topics. It has several activities which talk about the solar system and how it works, as well as talking about the Universe. While neither of these books or resources may be considered a “living book” I believe they offer the link needed for the kids to make connections between other books they are currently reading and the world around them.

When we first started the kids each knew about one constellation, after the first lesson they came back and said they had looked at the sky over the past week and noticed other things. That is the point of these lessons, not to tell them everything but to get them to be curious, observe, make connections with what they are learning and the world around them, and ultimately get them to take ownership in their learning.

Below is the order I am teaching these particular constellations at this time, though you may choose a different route. The order was determined first by the current reading in Age of Fable, though that method was quickly nixed as we were at a different place reading it than the rest of the group. The next logical order was following along with the book. But which one? Where we were or where the rest of the group was? What if the next constellation did not get talked about for a few weeks? Exactly which book should we use and why?

Knowing our group and the outside the box learning kids we have I added in Star Stories for Little Folks as an audio book option from Librivox which could be used to introduce a constellation and give a brief description of it. (Here is a print copy if you would rather go that route. Here is a free online copy.) This very much falls in line more with a living book as it is in the form of a story rather than a text book. So far I have heard good things from the kids concerning the story.

The audio version of the chapter in Star Stories is only a few minutes long. The coloring pages take as long or as short as needed, I often use them as something to keep the hands busy while the ears listen. The other activities also do not take a long time. In all this topic will likely last about 5 minutes keeping it short and to the point. If your kids would like to do something more in-depth with a certain aspect, feel free to take more time to explore it.

(As we go through these constellations I will share the resources and link to them via various posts and link them back here.)

  • Ursa Major/Ursa minor
  • Aquarius
  • Auriga
  • Taurus
  • Pisces
  • Orion
  • Gemini
  • Canus Major
  • Leo
  • Bootes
  • Corona
  • Lyra
  • Cygnus
  • Scorpio
  • Sagittarius
  • Aries
  • Cassiopeia’s Chair
  • Cancer
  • Virgo
  • Libra
  • Capricorn
  • Andromeda
  • Carina
  • Centarus
  • Perseus