Many camps are in rural locations where stars are more readily seen than from towns and cities. Yet most camps don't include any form of astronomy in their camp programs because they only see it as a night-time occupation — and one that requires experts and equipment. Carey Park Christian Camp in New Zealand found a way to overcome this in a very innovative way. The camp introduced astronomy during the daytime.
An Understanding of Astronomy
Experience shows that campers come to camp with little or no understanding of astronomy and often confuse it with astrology. They probably haven't had any astronomy lessons at school and have commonly-held ideas to explain "what is happening in the sky." The following are two views or perspectives of "what happens in the sky" — the apparent movement of the sun during the day.
This apparent motion of the sky varies depending on where you are on the Earth — so latitude, or where you live is important. To understand our place in space, we need to hold both views in our mind together.
In many camps, staff who are apprehensive about offering astronomy sessions at night never even think of doing it during the day. Before attempting a night astronomy program, you can establish the principles of astronomy by using shadows during the day.
Daytime observations based on the movement and direction of shadows are intriguing to explore and offer information that most people didn't understand or know.
Arising out of these points are four basic observations upon which many astronomical understandings are built. These observations set the scene for night-time observations:
The nearest star is the sun, the nearest planet is Earth, and the nearest moon is our moon. All three can be seen during the day. Understanding the motions and interaction of these three planets helps explain what is happening daily, nightly, seasonally, and yearly.
Implementing the Program
With this introductory information and observations, an astronomy program for campers can be implemented at camp and explored further at home or school. Many schools use Carey Park's astronomy program to meet their science curriculum standards. The original daytime astronomy activities have now developed into a worldwide camp and school astronomy program.
Eric Jackson is the chairman of Carey Park Christian Camp in Auckland, New Zealand, and has had extensive international camp leadership experience. Until his recent retirement, he was district science adviser for the Auckland Education Board's 600 schools and was responsible for science curriculum development, teacher in-service training, and the development of Education Outside the Classroom programs, particularly those that relate to camps. For more information, contact Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Originally published in the 2004 May/June issue of Camping Magazine.