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Science Activities to Teach the Phases of the Moon

By Marlene Gundlach

When students look up into the night sky at the moon, do they know what they are really seeing? These fun activities will help introduce your class to the phases of the moon and explain why they occur.

When students look up at the moon, many believe that we have many different moons orbiting our earth. They do not realize that it is the same moon with different levels of sunlight reflecting off it. When I was discussing the phases of the moon with a group of second graders, they thought that there were many different moons, each with a different shape. This lesson helps them to understand the eight phases of the moon.

Introducing the Phases of the Moon

moon To demonstrate just how we see the moon, choose three students to stand in front of the class; one will be the moon, one the sun, and the third will be earth. Give the child who is the sun a flashlight. Set up the students in various positions to show how the moon orbits the earth, and how the earth, at times, blocks the light from the sun, causing shadows on the moon. The "sun" should always be shining its light on the moon, and as the "moon orbits the earth" stop at intervals to show how the movement affects how much of the moon we see. Be sure to point out that the moon does not give off its own light like the sun, we only see the sunlight reflecting off the moon.

There are a few books that teach the phases of the moon that I suggest you check out. You can use the pictures in the books to make comparisons with your three demonstrators.

Hands-on Activity

Here are the materials you will need:

  • 8 vanilla wafers for each student
  • vanilla frosting
  • paper towels or napkins
  • popsicle sticks

Each student should get a paper towel or napkin to spread out in front of them, then, pass out 8 vanilla wafers to each student and each group should get a cup or tub of vanilla frosting. Put enough popsicle sticks in the cups of frosting for each student, the popsicle sticks will be used to spread the frosting. Discourage licking the sticks because they are sharing frosting.

Moon Book 

Have the students spread their cookies out in a circle on their napkin. There is a great collection of pictures in "The Moon Book" by Gail Gibbons that show students what each phase of the moon looks like. While showing these pictures, students will put frosting on their cookies to show what the moon looks like at each phase. The frosting will represent the amount of light reflecting off the moon. For example, a new moon would have no frosting because there is no light shining on the moon. The first-quarter moon will have frosting on the right half of the wafer. Do one at a time, as a group, so that the students take the time to see the progression of the "light" moving across their wafers. You could even draw eight phases of the moon on the board, in a circle like the student's wafers, and color them in as they move along to give another representation.

The best part of this activity is that they can eat it when they are finished. Be sure that you check the ingredients of the wafers and frosting for any allergy concerns.