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Solar Eclipse Special: How To Watch AND Explain It...

...because you know all you'll hear is 'why? Whhhhhyyyyyy? But whhhhy Mummy whyyyyyyy?'

On Friday 20th March, much of the country will be plunged into darkness as we experience the first solar eclipse in 16 years.

Most areas will experience an 85-90% eclipse, but some lucky folk, right on the tip of the British Isles will see a full eclipse.

Here are our top tips on watching the eclipse safely and explaining the science behind it.

Watching Safely

There are specially designed eclipse glasses available to buy online. Be sure you are buying from a reputable seller, and check there are no scratches or lens damage to the glasses before you use them. Make sure children fully understand that they should never look directly at the Sun, even when the majority of it is obscured by the moon.

Even with the glasses on it is only advisable to look at the Sun for a few minutes before taking a break to rest your eyes.

A safer way, especially for younger children, is to use a pinhole projector. This funnels the light through a small hole, then projects the image onto a piece of paper. Unlike the glasses which can only be used by one child at a time, you can have multiple children looking at the projector image at the same time. And they will have their backs to the Sun, making it much easier for you to supervise them and keep them safe.

The Science Bit

A solar eclipse is a wonderful opportunity for children and adults alike to come to fully experience their place in the Universe.

A complete solar eclipse is possible because although the Moon 400 times smaller than the Sun, the Sun is 400 times further away from Earth than the Moon. So when the two are in perfect alignment, it appears as if the Moon and Sun are the same size.

A scale model would take you a while to produce, but you can explain the principles using a few toys.

Hold a tennis ball and a ping pong ball, one in each hand, and ask your children which is biggest. Now take have one child stand at one end of the garden holding the tennis ball out, and another children at the other end, looking as if from Earth. You stand in the middle holding the ping pong ball, slowly stepping closer and closer to the observer until the ping pong ball has completely blocked their view of the tennis ball.

Another fun way to demonstrate the effect distance has on our perspective of size is to turn your children into giants. Now they know already that their thumbs are not as big as the cat, dog or Mum’s head. But send them to the top of the climbing frame and ask them to imagine squishing animal or human passers by with just their thumbs and see what happens. They should start giggling when they realize their hands look giant when compared to people on the ground a few metres away.

For more science, fun, games and outdoor ideas, check out the rest of the Wicken Toys blog.

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