Tuesday, March 2, 2010

In Like a Lion and Out Like a Lamb - Constellations with Kids

Welcome to Marker Monday. (Okay, it's Tuesday but this post got bumped by yesterday's post.)

Have you ever wondered where the expression, "In like a lion and out like a lamb.", referring to the month of March, came from? I always assumed it referred to the weather from the beginning to the end of the month. But no, it has its basis in the stars. Rather than explain it to you I found this great cartoon, Stargazing with Jack Horkheimer, wasn't he on PBS? He explains it much better than I ever could. Enjoy!

From the cartoon at right:

If you go outside on March 1st at 8 pm, and look above the western horizon, you'll see the dim stars that make up Aries, the ram or lamb. But if you look almost opposite at about the same height above the horizon in the east, you'll see the constellation Leo, the lion. So, the lion is rising into the night sky at the beginning of March, which supports the fact that March usually begins with fiercer weather. One month later on March 31st at 8 pm, however, the lion will be almost overhead and the lamb will by smack-dab on the western horizon. Now, we all know that usually the weather at the end of march is milder than the weather at the beginning of March. So the lamb setting indicates that March is going out like a lamb! So perhaps long ago someone tied all this together and decided to poetically link both constellations to the weather coming up with that old phrase. Whatever, may you always have clear skies in March for viewing the lion and the lamb, which is easy if you remember to keep looking up!

Of course I thought this would be a good time to introduce a bit of astronomy to the boys. Laying out tonight looking at the stars isn't an option unfortunately...too much snow. I found these illustrations and talked to the boys about how people long ago didn't have TV, (what a tragedy) so for entertainment they would use their imaginations (what a concept) and would connect the stars to make pictures (constellations).

We talked a little bit how the sun and stars stay put in the sky but the earth moves around the sun. For a hands on explanation we spread out in our kitchen representing something different in the sky. The boys were each a constellation, the baby in her high chair was the sun and I carried the globe around the sun as we talked about the seasons.The constellations will be in different parts of the sky according to the seasons.( The baby tried taking a picture of this but her photography skills have much to be desired.) This may have been a bit advanced for the boys and I'm not sure how much they understood but it's a start. After this I gave them each a star map and they connected the stars to make new constellations.

We were lucky to find this book later that day at the library. It does a nice job helping to visualize the personalities in the constellations as well as telling the story behind them.

Hopefully we can sleep under the stars in a few months and enjoy constellations first hand!

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