Enrich the eclipse experience — especially the long, partial phases — with solar eclipse activities for the young and young at heart.
Of all the people who will view an eclipse — total or partial — many will be young. Young enough that you'll want to double- and triple-check their solar viewers before letting them look up at the Sun, and young enough, too, that you'll want other activities for them (and you!) as the Sun makes its way through the long partial phases. Not to mention, some will be young enough that this will be their very first eclipse, and you'll want to make every moment count!
Viewing the Eclipse with Kids
The first and simplest activity is to make an eclipse viewer to see the Sun. Note: Don't look at the Sun directly or through anything other than safe solar viewers or No. 14 arc-welder's glass during the partial phases of the eclipse. It's completely safe to look at the blocked Sun during totality though.
If you weren't able to procure a pair of glasses, there are other options: Pinhole projectors works just as well, if not better, to view the Sun, and they come with the side benefit that they only work when you face your back to the Sun — eye safety guaranteed.
Find a cereal box, scissors, some tin foil, a pushpin or toothpick, and tape, and you'll have everything you need to make a pinhole projector to view the solar eclipse. Watch NASA's video for the easy-to-follow instructions:
There are lots of different ways to make pinhole projectors, and this is just one of them. Just remember: The smaller the hole, the sharper the image will be, but the dimmer it will be too. So experiment — some have had fun creating pinhole projectors out of other items, such as boxes big enough to fit your head or cardboard tubes.
Sky & Telescope Contributing Editor Emily Lakdawalla has taken things one step further. The basic idea behind this fantastic concept: why create just one projection of the solar eclipse when you can create many? Go to town with that pushpin and create a work of eclipse art. Find Lakdawalla's full set of instructions at The Planetary Society's website.
In addition to creating your own multiple-pinhole projector, you might find nature making its own works of art. Take a moment during the partial phases to hunt for crescent Suns in the shade of trees or manmade objects around you.
Another fun art project that can also make eclipse glasses safer and more comfortable is to tape them onto a paper plate to create a face cover. Besides being fun to personalize, this can help keep the Sun out of wayward eyes — it might surprise you that very young children don't always know or want to look through glasses! Have an adult cut out a slice of the plate to make room for the nose, then cut out holes for where you'll tape the solar glasses. Give kids art materials such as markers and beads and enjoy the results!
Make Your Own Totality Prediction
If you're in the path of totality, you might talk with your kids about the corona — a mysterious part of the Sun that no humans can see for themselves except during a total solar eclipse. The appearance of the Sun's atmosphere changes constantly depending on what the Sun's magnetic field is doing, and while scientists will make predictions as to the corona's appearance, everyone will experience it differently according to their eye's response.
Have kids predict what they'll see with a bit of chalk. NASA has full instructions here, but the best part of this project is that it's so simple. Place a glass, pail, or other cylindrical object upside down on a piece of black or dark blue paper and trace the cylinder's outline with a thick line of chalk. Then, being careful not to move the cylinder, smear the chalk to create your own version of the corona. Remove the cylinder and voila — you've drawn your own version of the solar corona!
Act It Out
If the kids, especially the younger ones, are getting antsy, make a game of it and have them act out a solar eclipse. In a group of three, have one person each identify as the Sun, Moon, and Earth. Then, after asking the Sun and Earth to stay (relatively) still, direct the Moon to walk between the Sun and Earth. They can all take turns as Earth, relating what they see as the Moon passes between Earth and the Sun.
For older children, you can add the additional complexity of orbits: have the Moon walk around Earth as Earth walks around the Sun. Switch it up by asking the kids what will happen if there's a lunar eclipse instead of a solar eclipse — the results may be entertaining!
Visit the Library
Thousands of libraries will be hosting special eclipse-day events. In addition to activities for the young and young at heart, they'll have knowledgeable people in attendance who can answer any questions that come up during the event.
I can tell you from personal experience that, even if you're not in the path of totality, this won't be an event that you — or the kids you're with — will soon forget.