Astronomy club members are sometimes heard lamenting the graying of the hobby; young kids today are too interested in their electronic gizmos to look up at the night sky. Erica Saint Clair and the Battle Point Astronomical Association (BPAA) have embarked on a new effort to hook the kids while they’re young. The association has recently started BPAstro Kids, a program for younger children that precedes its monthly planetarium shows in the John Rudolph Planetarium at its Edwin Ritchie Observatory on Bainbridge Island.
Though education and the planetarium have been part of the BPAA’s mission since its formation in 1993, the program for kids came about recently as something of an accident. Saint Clair took her youngest daughter to story time at the local library, and met another mom there whose husband makes regular presentations at the association’s events. She was recruited to do a talk about Mars rovers.
“I have no background in astronomy—zero,” Saint Clair said. “I have a Ph.D. in physics, which apparently qualified me.”
She did the talk, which took a lot of time to prepare and bored her five-year-old terribly. Saint Clair also has a two-year-old, and decided that she would prefer to make presentations for younger children.
“My passion is for teaching kids science, and making it fun, and making them want to do it and beg me to do it,” Saint Clair said. “It helps to have a five-year-old who is really into and really excited about everything we do in science.”
Thus BPAstro Kids was born, presented by “Dr. Erica,” who figured if she was already creating science activities for her own daughters, she might as well share with others. The sessions feature short talks followed by hands-on activities. The kids have built edible optics, Valentine’s “love bots,” and marble particle accelerators. This Saturday they’ll make real, working telescopes they can take home. They started with one session before the monthly planetarium show, but so many people brought their kids they’re doing two now.
“I feel like we’re snowballing, and that’s fantastic,” Saint Clair said. She’s working on turning her presentations into a science-education business. She’s founded Rosie Research, with the aim of engaging kids in new types of science labs. They may eventually make tools such as telescope-making kits available for purchase. In the meantime Saint Clair goes about the business of inspiring youngsters.
“My goal is to get kids interested in all types of science, and I think space science is kind of the go-to for kids,” she said. “Every kid wants to go to the Moon, every kid wants to see what Mars is going to be like.”
Saint Clair is encoraged by the interest in BPAstro Kids and said she feels we are beginning to value “smart” again.
“I think we are as a culture shifting towards ‘science is cool and it’s sexy and it’s fun,’” she said.
Kids can build telescopes at BPAstro Kids at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. this Saturday, April 9 at the Edwin Ritchie Observatory in Battle Point Park on Bainbridge Island. Suggested donation is $5 to help cover costs. A presentation about space telescopes will follow at 7:30. BPAstro Kids has received financial support from BPAA, the Awesome Foundation, and Rotary International of Bainbridge Island.
Podcast of our interview with Erica Saint Clair: