365daysDate: August 6, 2009

Title: UNAWE: Experiences with children


Podcaster: Deirdre Kelleghan, Gijs Verdoes Kleijn, Kevin Govender, Amine Abdellatif, and Carolina Ödman

Organization: Universe Awareness

Description: Universe Awareness and their experiences with children.

Bio: Deirdre Kelleghan is an amateur astronomer and an artist. She is the former President of the Irish Astronomical Society (2005 – 2009) she is now The Outreach Officer for the Irish Federation of Astronomical Societies. Deirdre has been running a workshop where she gets young children to express themselves by drawing their visions of how the Moon and other celestial objects appear to them.

Gijs Verdoes Kleijn is an astronomer at the Kapteyn Astronomical Institute, Groningen University, The Netherlands. He is actively involved in public outreach and education. He is part of the team that developed the Groningen Discovery Truck , a travelling exhibition around the science of the Herschel satellite and infra-red light.

Kevin Govender is the SPoC for South Africa and his day job is manager of the SALT Collateral Benefits Programme. The objectives of this programme is to ensure that the South African society benefits from the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), built in the Northern Cape provice of South Africa.

Amine Abdellatif is the manager of the ‘Universe Pavilion’ of the Science City, the large science museum in Tunis, Tunisia. Naoufel Ben Maaouis is the manager of the Planetarium of the Science City in Tunis, Tunisia. The Science City is more than a museum. It plays a pioneering role in science education in the country, trains teachers and reaches out with a mobile science caravan to the most remote areas of Tunisia.

Carolina Ödman is the international project manager of Universe Awareness.

Today’s sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by the American Astronomical Society, the major organization for professional astronomers in North America, whose members remind everyone that One Sky Connects Us All. Find out more or join the AAS at


Welcome to the second contribution of Universe Awareness to the 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast.

My name is Carolina Ödman.

If you would like to hear other voices, join us on for other recordings from other countries. I would also like to invite you to contribute your own. If you meet young children or interact with them on a regular basis and would like to record what they think of the universe, please do so and I’ll be thrilled to add this to our collection online on the website. You can contact me by email at

In today’s episode, we’re talking to the people who interact with the children. With astronomers, educators, teachers, artists and volunteers, those who bring astronomy to the children we heard lat time.

[First interview]

My name is Deirdre Kelleghan, and I am the outreach coordinator for the Irish Federation of Astronomical societies.

Why I do this thing has nothing to do with anybody else but myself. I’m a child of Apollo 11 and I really really like that children understand what’s going on in the solar system, understand what they’re looking at when they look up at the sky – simply. In a simple way. That they don’t take it for granted. That they look up, and don’t just kind of keep insular in their lives.

What Deirdre fails to mention is that she is an accomplished artist, an astronomy sketcher. She has been running the Deadly Moons workshop for Universe Awareness in Ireland for the last year or so.

– Can you see a difference in the children – sort of before and after – before they know anything about space and how beautiful and big it is, and how they see things differently after that?

– I think, especially if you’re using art you know, they get more of a chance to express their kind of interest in the subject. They get very excited about it and if you follow, like if you do a drawing programme or whatever like I do, and then you follow it up by actually bringing a telescope and actually showing them what they’re looking at, that has a powerful effect. It has an ongoing, lasting effect. And I know that the children that I’ve been dealing with the last four years still talk about the visits I made or the follow-up visits that were made by other members and other amateurs in the country.

[Second interview]

My name is Gijs Verdoes-Kleijn, I’m an astronomer in the Netherlands, at the Kapteyn Astronomical Institute in Groningen, which is in the North part of the Netherlands.

– OK so you were saying that you had a school with 4 and 5 years olds?

– Yes. So that was a very nice challenge for me because as an astronomer I am used to conferences and workshops with people that are also interested in astronomy and the same kind of scientific topics. This was a completely different audience, which is actually much more demanding than the other ones because you really have to basically move into their skin and their world and their environment.

So, that was possible because the teacher in this case was a very enthusiastic person so she informed me and introduced me to all the things I should know before I went up there. And it was quite free-flow because she said ‘ Do it as free-flow as possible because then the children, you know, they can grab on the things they are interested in and you follow, basically you follow their course, what they do. And that actually worked out very well. It was very intense but they were very enthusiastic and that’s a good thing about the stars, that they are amazingly enthusiastic so it was very rewarding for me to be there.

And then of course they were very curious so they wanted immediately to explain all kinds of other things, you know, the back holes and that kind of stuff. So that was amazingly interesting to see how much they actually absorb already. And perhaps they don’t understand what’s going on but they have the feeling “Ok – This is something that I might be interested in,” and they have it in their head and then it all pops out.

They had a special – that’s also a nice idea – they have a “Theme table” for these kinds of projects so they gather all kinds of things on there and you can see the different approaches form different children. Some are very systematic, the other ones are very associative, so they associate with this, and that, and that goes very quickly. And there’s people – there are children that, you know, don’t say a thing for two minutes and then all of a sudden they pop the question because, you know, their minds have been cranking for two minutes and other guys are just continuously feeding you, trying to find the right question.

[Third interview]

My name is Kevin Govender, I’m from the South African Astronomical Observatory, and I’m the Single Point of Contact for the Year of Astronomy in South Africa and I’ve been involved with Universe Awareness since 2006.

– So what do you think Astronomy can do for young children?

– Astronomy has the ability to inspire people, especially young children. When one gives the idea of the scale, the magnitude, the beauty of the universe, then it gives people perspective. With young children, the thing is that when they are young, it’s the time that they are most impressionable. It’s the time when they are most able to shape their view of the universe and by giving them an idea of how small the Earth is relative to other astronomical objects, but at the same time how special it is in terms of life being here on this planet, it gives them the perspective of how important it is to protect the Earth and to take care of each other on this planet.

– So do you interact with children yourself regularly?

– Yes I do and it’s much more rewarding than interacting with adults I must say, because the reaction of a child in learning about the universe is instantaneous and long lasting and you can see it when you have repeated interactions with kids. and I think that’s the most rewarding thing. It’s fun, sometimes even adults wow more than the kids but definitely when we have a group of kids its’ absolutely brilliant you can quite easily completely blow their minds with just the most basic of things about the universe.

The other day we had a group of 9 year olds at the observatory and when talking about the idea of gravity and without actually mentioning the word or mentioning the concept, simply asking probing questions, one child came up with the idea that there’s a invisible rope that’s tying her to the ground. And just by stimulating thinking within a particular direction you can actually bring out such innovative ideas in a child!

[Fourth interview]

{Amine Abdellatif, chef de service du Pavillon de l’Univers.
Naoufel Ben Maaouia, responsable du Planetarium et le coordinateur du projet UNAWE en Tunisie.}

[The interview continues in French with a voiceover]

Amine Abdellatif, Head of service at the Universe Pavillion, and Naoufel Ben Maaouia, in charge of the Planetarium of the Science City in Tunis and Coordinator of Universe Awareness in Tunisia, tell us about their efforts to train teachers to teach astronomy and what impact it has on everything else in the school.

They [teachers] underestimate their capacity to understand this discipline so first we need to give the teachers confidence and explain that astronomy is not something very difficult that we can approach it in different ways, at different levels and that they can equip themselves with easy tools to teach it.

So when we say astronomy we don’t necessarily mean telescopes or things like that, you can easily explain very complicated concepts with things that you can find the local market and you can develop activities that will explain astronomical concepts before thinking of an academic type of training. And in that context Universe Awareness can play an important role.

You can make children aware – from their youngest age – that for example they can observe the moon during the day and that way you are establishing a scientific dialogue a dialogue of scientific thinking with the children. In fact, the astronomical shock, the fact to observe Saturn through a telescope is extraordinary, or Jupiter’s satellites! I mean – here I am in a different world!

The love for astronomy is first understanding a phenomenon but then to share it, share the understanding with others and to read in others’ eyes that you have already just made them discover something that they see every day without even noticing.

Personally I was surprised after the training sessions for teachers that we organised, to get a large number of phone calls, that told me, that asked me “When can we do the next, the second, the third training?” and that’s very positive. And after now writing this manual for the educator, with Universe Awareness International, we can go an knock on the doors of the pedagogical inspectors, of the minister of Education and skills, and I believe that we can being astronomy into the school curriculum.

That’s it for today’s episode. We look forward to joining you for the last Universe Awareness contribution to the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast. We hope you enjoyed.

Today’s episode featured music by V-n-R 4eva and Jerry Tinkelenberg, both from

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
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