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Science of cycles - Nighttime, Daytime!

Blog | October 13, 2020 | Share on:
Sunset over the ocean/coucher de soleil sur la mer

Nighttime, Daytime!

Though the concept seems simple, children can benefit from understanding the science behind the cycles we refer to as “day” and “night.” In our educational resources, we have some great recommendations for helping children begin learning about daily cycles.

Start by talking to your children about the sun and its position relative to your location on earth. It may be useful to have a globe or provide a video explanation from our STEM video channel. You can also try this activity from our educational resources about day and night and use the images to sort pictures by making observations of the sun at different times of the day!

Continue your inquiry by introducing concepts like the earth’s 24-hour cycle of rotation. Help your children build their online digital literacy skills by researching with them what hemispheres and time zones you live in. You can even talk about Canada’s different time zones and what time you should call Aunt Ada, who lives in Vancouver when you live in Halifax.

To help reinforce the concepts, you can ask your children to print or draw pictures, words, and symbols representing day and night. Using these, children can begin identifying and explaining concepts that portray day and night by classifying them.

Take things a step further; children can record observations about the sun’s positions in the sky throughout the day using a physical or online journal. Ask them about what they think happens to the sun at night? Does the sun go to sleep? Does it wear pyjamas?


Shadows are a useful way to explain the different light sources and the earth’s rotation on its axis, which determines day and night. And who doesn’t love shadow puppets!

One great inquiry question you can start with is why we can see shadows at night? All you need is a dark area with a light source. Go for a family walk after dusk, search for shadows and identify each object making the shadow. You can walk underneath the shadows during the day and show them how shadows can create cooler areas that protect our bodies and eyes from the direct sunlight. Ask your children to help you solve the problem and classify the differences between shadows in the day and night.

Oh, and don’t forget the shadow puppets! Of course, you can use your hands and fingers in different positions to create animals like these. Still, you can also cut figures out of paper and cardboard to make even more intricate puppet designs, and maybe even make up a play about night time and day time shadows.

Finding Directions at Night

It is useful to understand how to find North at night, this helps children understand our relationship to the stars, constellations and introduce the concepts of direction beyond this is my right, and this is my left hand (Yes, it’s ok if you still use the L).

For those of you new to astronomy, the last star on the handle of The Little Dipper (Ursa Minor or The Little Bear) is the North Star, also known as Polaris. Try this hands-on activity to help children discover which way is north at night.

The North Star is important not because of its brightness, but because it is the only star that never appears to change its place in the sky. Even while the other stars and constellations are moving, Polaris stays put! If you are in the northern hemisphere, you can always tell which way is north to find the North Star.

Take things a step further. Watch this video one of our Let’s Talk Science Outreach volunteers made to learn how to create your constellation viewer.

Moon Phases

No werewolves needed to do this activity, but we can assure you that the moon has a particular pull that offers an easy way to engage children every night! Unless it’s a cloudy night, you can almost guarantee that a natural element of science is sitting in the sky for you to discuss!

Help your children understand the moon’s different phases and identify each phase’s name through our picture collection. You can also keep track of the moon by basing your outside nighttime activities on a lunar calendar. You can buy a calendar that includes the lunar cycle, or you could use websites online, like Time and Date, to track it.

Another idea is to portray moon phases using OREOTM cookies! The dark cookie and the creme filling are perfect representations for the moon and its phases, in addition to being a fun nighttime snack! Parents and educators can open up an OREO and scrape (or eat!) the fillings to match the moon of that night! You can print out an activity sheet here on the NASA website. This is also an excellent way to talk about fractions (yes, you can have fun doing math at bedtime when there are cookies involved.)

By introducing children to the moon phases, you can easily transition into a conversation about the moon’s orbit. You can talk about the different hemispheres of the moon and talk about how long it takes for the moon to orbit the sun (yes, MATH AGAIN!). 

Career Spotlight

Help strengthen the connection to everyday science by introducing careers in Space Science and Astronomy! Our career profiles can help turn nighttime activities into tangible career goals for children into the field of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (or STEM)!

If your child is interested in math, physics, and computing, encourage them to look into the field of astronomy and keep exploring the beautiful wonders of science!

  • Jan Cami, Associate Professor of Astronomy at Western University
    He helps teach students about astronomy during the school year and outside of this, includes research and travelling.
  • Margarita Marinova, SR. Mars Development Engineer at SpaceX
    She gets to think about colonizing Mars, design rocket systems with her team and interact with many people in the process.
  • Robert Thirsk, former Canadian Space Agency Astronaut
    He trained for and flew on two space missions: the STS-78 space shuttle mission in 1996 and ISS Expedition 20/21 in 2009.