Exploring the Night Sky

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It can feel funny sometimes to teach a baby about celestial objects – the stars, the moon, planets – because they are rarely awake to see nighttime! Especially here in the summer, Veronika is asleep long before stars come out or the moon shines.

If your child also sleeps before dark, have fun pointing out these night objects in books instead! Today, instead of reading the words, I sang star and moon poems as we turned each page of a favorite book.

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When we came to a star, I pointed and sang:

Twinkle twinkle little star

How I wonder what you are.

Up above the world so high,

Like a diamond in the sky.

Twinkle twinkle little star

How I wonder what you are.

And here’s a rhyme to go with the moon page:

I see the moon

And the moon sees me

As is floats so high

Over mommy and me

I see the stars

And the stars see me

As they shine in the sky

Over Daddy and me

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You can also point out stars wherever you may have them around the house. Veronika is transfixed by our nightlight.

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We tried going outside just before bedtime, but the sky was indeed still light.

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But then wouldn’t you know it; an unusually fussy bedtime had Veronika up later than usual, and look what was peeking at us just before she slept.

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Meanwhile, we’ll wait for the impending shorter days of autumn and winter, when I can truly take her out to marvel at these wonders of the night sky.

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Moon Crater Experiment

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Travis loves learning about the moon, and specifically how its craters were made. Okay, so this “experiment” isn’t exactly accurate, but your kids will have a blast launching “asteroids” at the moon surface to make holes!

To make our moon, Travis first poured 4 cups flour into a cake pan.

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Add 1/2 cup baby oil and mix until the mixture holds together; we found that hands worked better than a spoon for this purpose. Now we had moon dust!

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Next we headed outside to the “asteroid belt!” My proud astronaut discovered a trove of pebbles and very carefully selected some to bring inside.

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Place your moon cake pan on a layer of newspaper to avoid any mess. Wouldn’t you know, there was an ad featuring a view of Earth from the moon!

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Travis began launching our “asteroids” one at a time.

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He discovered that pressing the pebbles in a bit made a better crater than simply dropping them, and experimented with the difference between dropping them from up close versus up high.

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That’s one small drop for a boy, one giant leap for imagination.

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Faces of the Moon

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If you’re looking for the most delicious way under the sun (er, moon!) to teach your kid the names for all the moon’s different phases, this quick lesson plan from Raddish Kids has you covered. Hint: It involves Oreo cookies.

But before I let Travis eat cookies, we focused on a little moon information. I asked Travis what he pictured when he thought about the sky; he came up with ‘blue’ and ‘clouds’. Two great daytime picks! But what about focusing on the nighttime sky, I asked him.

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We watched two quick background videos on moon phases and I also made him a chart (which earned a “thanks Mom!”). This was his first introduction to some great science words, like waxing, waning, and gibbous.

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Now it was time to show him the moon phases with three neat projects.

To make the first, a moon phase viewer, cut a black rectangle from construction paper. Fold the paper in half and open back up again. Cut a white square from white construction paper that fits in the folded black rectangle, leaving a long tab on either end so you can pull the white paper side to side.

Trace a coin on the black paper, pressing firmly so the imprint is visible on the white paper below as well. Cut out both circles.

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Now line up your viewer and slide the white paper to see it change from gibbous to half to crescent to new and back again!

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For the second moon viewer, you’ll need two plastic cups. Glue or tape a yellow circle onto black construction paper and insert into one plastic cup; tape into place.

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On the second cup, label a place for full, waning half, new, and waxing half moons. Now rotate your yellow circle and color over it with black sharpie as appropriate to form each moon phase, leaving the full moon with no sharpie. Travis loved spinning this one!

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The third version is where he had the real fun! I set out eight cookies (we like Newman O’s) on a diagram and it was Travis’s job to scrape the right amount of frosting off each to form the eight phases.

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Needless to say, there was much nibbling along with the scraping!

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I had to help him with some of the trickier ones (gibbous, crescents), but he was a pro at half and new moon.

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We finished off with a read of The Moon Book by Gail Gibbons.

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Consider making craters in a clay moon if your kids want to continue the fun!

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Exploring Stars Kiwi Crate

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The topic of Travis’s Kiwi Crate this month (stars and the solar system), is one of his favorite topics, so I had no doubts he would enjoy the projects. The crafts themselves proved to be a little faulty, but we still had galaxies full of fun. What a perfect coincidence that his recipes from Raddish Kids were star-themed this month, too.

First up: a Constellation Lantern. Travis knows quite a bit about constellations, so happily set about making a few pretend versions with the provided black star stickers on the lantern paper.

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I made a few real star patterns for him, including Leo the lion (his astrological sign) and some funny ones (Darth Vader’s helmet!).

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He popped open the paper lantern frame.

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Insert the slots at the bottom of the frame into the provided paper base; fold and then tape to secure shut. Open the paper lantern insert and put this inside the first frame. The pages he had decorated with stars now fit in between these two.

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“I can do it myself!” he said confidently, not wanting any assistance.

Adhere the provided foam circle into the bottom of the lantern. Insert the provided tea light (make sure it is on!) and then add the paper lantern lid. A pipe cleaner threaded through holes in the top makes a handle.

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From here, we were off to the darkest room we could find in the house to check it out!

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Travis loved being in the dark and seeing the stars “glow”.

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Next up was a Solar Spinner, a kid-friendly version of an orrery.

Two interlocking wooden gears are inserted into the provided base and secured with brads. As with the lantern, Travis loved doing all these fine motor skills by himself.

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Once the gears were between the two base plates, Travis screwed them together with kid-friendly plastic nuts and bolts.

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He gave the machine little test, and watched the wooden gears spin around together. Now we just needed to add the provided sun, Earth, and moon. There are teeny tiny green stickers that kids can add to the blue Earth circle.

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The “sun” is a light inserted into a plastic case.

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All three orbs attach to the orrery with sticky foam dots.

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Travis was smitten with the model he’d made! It also fantastically illustrates to children why sometimes it’s day and sometimes night, as well as why sometimes we see a full moon and sometimes no moon (a new moon). Full moon…

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New moon!

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Finally, we put together a Making Moonlight model. Stick the sharp end of a pencil onto a Styrofoam ball (not provided in the kit); this will be your moon. Turn on a flashlight; this is your sun!

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Now we headed into a dark room and I had Travis spin while I held the “sun.”

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When the flashlight hits the ball, it appears to glow; but of course it’s not really glowing, just reflecting the flashlight. The idea is to show that the moon doesn’t make its own light, but looks “full” when the sun shines on it, and looks “new” when sunlight does not hit it.

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Travis loved adding lots of “craters” to his moon before he was done with it.

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As mentioned at the top of this post, the projects were a little faulty in this kit. In order to turn off the lights in both, you had to disassemble them a little. This constant take-apart-and-put-back-together-again meant that neither project lasted long. The top of the lantern and pipe cleaner were soon crumpled and broken, and the model sun no longer adhered to our model solar system.

But we at least got to enjoy both for a short while!

Oddly, there were no suggested books this time around, but it was easy to find some fun reads at the library, including Whose Moon is That by Kim Krans and Zoo in the Sky by Jacqueline Mitton.

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Meanwhile, we can’t wait to explore further with Travis’s real telescope on an upcoming vacation. Our plans include making up our own pictures with what we see in the night sky; comparing how the sky is way out in the countryside versus near a city; and looking for craters on the moon!

Mr. Moon

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This cute and dramatic game helps teach your baby about the sun and the moon. There’s a reason this pair is a staple of nursery rhymes; sun/moon and day/night are one of the first concepts your baby will notice and learn in life!

To bring the sun and moon to life, you’ll need two paper plates and craft sticks.

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On the first plate, I drew a sun with a nice smiling face. Use markers, watercolor markers, or any other preferred medium to color in. On the second plate, I drew a crescent moon and added a nose, mouth, and smile.

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Attach a craft stick to each with tape. Now have these cross the “sky” in front of your baby, alternating day and night. This was fun for Veronika just for the visual!

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Then I recited this cute poem as I traveled the plates in front of her:

Mr. Moon, Mr. Moon

You’re up too soon.

The Sun’s still high in the sky.

So go back to your bed, 

and cover up your head,

and wait for the day to go by.

Veronika loved reaching for the plates. She continued to play with them long after the rhyme-time was done.

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A great first sun and moon game!

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Early Explorers Space

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Travis’s penultimate package from his Early Explorers subscription was all about space and – forgive me for saying it – he had a blast with this one!

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The activity booklet this month was heavy on tracing (letters, shapes, names of planets), but I considered that a good thing, since it reinforces lessons Travis is getting in preschool. We might have liked to see a more detailed space craft or science project, though, since the topic lends itself so easily to both.

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Space Craft:

The craft was actually playing with the included keepsake this month (see below), a set of space-themed stamps and ink pads. The activity booklet included a blank page simply for “stamp fun.” Travis was thrilled seeing the images, including Jupiter, an astronaut, a solar system model, and more.

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Once that page was filled, he needed more paper!

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I loved watching his creativity as he stamped and then cut some of them out to play with.

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Space Science:

As mentioned, it was a bit of a disappointment that the booklet didn’t feature a scientific experiment. But for “science,” we headed out to look at constellations. We also headed out one night to glimpse the International Space Station, You can check out when it will be in your area here. Travis got to stay up late (a treat!) so we could catch an 8.34 fly by. Looking, looking…

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We think we saw it!

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Space Keepsake:

These were the space stamps, of course! See my notes above in the craft section.

Space Field Trip:

Although not recommended as a further activity, it seems only natural to visit a planetarium near you during this unit. Since Travis had done so recently on a school field trip, though, we headed to a fantastic local museum all about aviation, and focused on the final stretch of the museum: space travel.

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Travis has never shown much interest in this section before, but now he was enthralled. He got to simulate landing a space shuttle, see a real moon lander, explore a model of a future space station on Mars, and more.

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Space Further Activities:

First, we checked out NASA’s website to see what astronauts are currently up to. Travis is captivated by the rovers on Mars!

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Then, we found a blog post on Little Passport’s website about World Space Week. First we made a comet: attach aluminum foil around the tip of a craft stick to form a ball.

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Cut metallic-colored ribbon into pieces about 6 inches long; attach to the stick.

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Travis loved making his comet soar!

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Then we designed an alien. Let your kid’s imagination run wild here!

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Travis’s alien was green; he started with its belly, and said it had a belly ache which made it a mean alien – oh no!

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I took him in front of his Little Passport’s map and had him close his eyes and point (you could also do this with a spinning globe). His finger landed on Africa, and his challenge was to describe Africa to an alien who’d never been to Earth. This might be easier for younger kids if you default to having them describe their hometown.

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You can also bring space into your home with fun decorations. We traced stars and moons using a cookie cutter on construction paper, and also added glow-in-the-dark stars.

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I sent a secret loving message on one section of wall. Travis made a “comet” and the “big dipper” in his area!

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For some final learning, we went to the library for a books about space (he loved one about Mars, and another about the gas giants), and also found links online to learn more about comets and meteors, including this kid-friendly video.

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As I said, what a blast!

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Glow in the Dark Moon and Stars Painting

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Travis loves the craters on the moon, and is always asking how they’re made. So we’ve done a few fun projects where he gets to make craters, everything from poking holes into clay to making explosions outside. This little project was also another way to add a comforting glow to his bedroom at night. We just needed glow-in-the-dark paint, and a fun tool – q-tips! – and we were ready to start.

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First, I marked off a section of dark construction paper with masking tape. The area within the tape would be the moon, and the rest of the paper was for the stars.

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We filled in the moon with glow-in-the-dark paint, then used a q-tip to form lots of craters.

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The only glow paint we had is actually meant to be squeezed from a tube, not brushed on, so to make stars we squeezed out dots of paint and then smooshed them with a q-tip.

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Travis loved this step!

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Now we just had to wait until dark. We let the painting dry under bright lights, and transferred to his room at bedtime.

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A beautiful glowing (crater-filled!) moon.

Starry Night Crate

Starry Night Crate

The Starry Night crate will be Travis’s very last Koala Crate; I can’t believe my baby is going to be a “graduate”! I considered this crate a real test, then, to make sure he’s mastered the Koala and is ready for Kiwi (aimed at 5- to 8-year-olds).

He immediately knows when a crate has arrived, and needs to get his hands on the materials. When I told him the air-dry clay inside was for the moon, he noticed bubbles in it and declared, “Look, craters!”

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So along those lines, first up was the Glowing Moon. Press the air-dry clay over the surface of a provided ball, until it’s as even as you can get it. As a slight flaw, the clay was very sticky. I’m not sure it was supposed to be – Travis may have warmed it up in his hands through the package! But it made the spreading quite difficult. We did then use the provided hard ball to make “craters.”

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This was a neat science lesson for kids, since real space debris hitting the moon makes real craters, in imitation of their miniature version.

Next dab on glow-in-the-dark paint.

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We waited for the moon to dry, then hung it on the provided cardboard stand and watched it light up in his room. Very neat!

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The second activity was a Meteor Toss; Travis was super excited to learn there was a game in this crate, not just crafts. All you need to do is drape the provided fabric over a small ball, gather it up, and tie with a ribbon.

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Travis has just recently begun lacing up shoes, so proudly did this step alone. Now set up the cardboard “galaxy” and take aim.

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Travis enjoyed the challenge of making the universe successively smaller, or standing further away. If you like, keep score!

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Finally, we put together the Galaxy Bottle. First, squirt blue glue into the bottom.

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Next add pom poms and space objects (planets, stars, etc.). Then it’s time to add two colors of glitter, which Travis loved.

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I filled the bottle about two-thirds full with water, and we could play the suggested activity. Use the spinner, then tilt the bottle to find the objects floating in space.

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This was another neat science lesson, since I pointed out to Travis how hard an astrologist’s job is, to locate far off things like galaxies and supernovae among all the black of outer space.

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As a cautionary note, you may want to glue the lid on the bottle – it is very brave of Koala to assume kids won’t try to unscrew the cap!

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Again, this was our farewell crate. Stay tuned for the first post on Kiwi Crate in the new year!

Track the Moon

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Although we weren’t in the path for July 27th’s remarkable eclipse, it got us thinking about the moon… That and the suggestion from High Five magazine to track the moon over a few days of its cycle.

We began about ten days out from the full moon, noting it as thumbnail-sized and high in the sky in the mid-afternoon. It grew for a few days before we lost it to a string of cloudy days – oh no!

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Luckily the clouds parted by the time we had a three-quarter moon, and then a gorgeous full moon rise on July 26/27.

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Each day, have your child tell you what they’ve observed, and then draw a picture or words to accompany it (older kids can, of course, draw the moon themselves!). This is a great way to show kids how the moon changes in a cycle. Travis loved spotting craters, too, and noticing how much brighter the moon is by night than by day.

Moon rise can be late (8.20 pm for the full one in our area!) but it’s one of those perfect summer excises to stay up late. Why not make a night of it? Go out for ice cream (thanks Ben&Jerry’s non-dairy!), have story time right in the ice cream parlor, and watch the moon rise before heading home to bed.

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The next full moon will be August 26, giving you one more chance before summer’s out (hint hint!).

Making Moon Craters

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Some games are educational, some games are artistic – but for this one I confess we basically just wanted to take advantage of our new backyard and have some messy fun!

That said, the moon has been on our mind since the eclipse, so I asked Travis if he wanted to see an example of how asteroids and comets made craters on the moon. That was the extent of our “science lesson”, but older kids doing this project might want to look at videos of the moon or research craters a little further.

For our moon surface, I filled a bin with about 2 inches of white flour. A little cocoa powder sprinkled on top added contrast.

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Three “asteroids” of dried clay made the perfect asteroids. Hold them at about chin level, then drop down onto your moon surface.

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There was a very satisfying puff of flour and cocoa with each impact!

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And very neat holes left behind.

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Because this activity was so action-based, here’s a quick video!