Astronomy is not a subject many parents I know are eager to teach to their kids, so when I offered to teach a Classical Astronomy class in our local homeschool co-op, several parents sounded interested. This year, teaching Astronomy to a dozen or so 7th-12th graders has been very rewarding, and it has convinced me even more about the benefits of a child learning to appreciate and understand the heavens.
What is “Classical” Astronomy?
Classical Astronomy is the study of the motions of the heavenly bodies—the sun, moon, stars, and planets—as seen from earth.
Unlike modern astronomy, classical astronomy does not rely on telescopes: it is the lost art of using the naked eye to observe the clockwork of the heavens. Classical Astronomy is the everyday-life astronomy ancient people did: studying the heavens for navigation and for marking times of day and seasons of the year.
Unlike astrology, which attaches superstitious meanings to the stars, Classical Astronomy seeks to understand the heavens as God designed them for us to use (Genesis 1:14-19).
Why Study Classical Astronomy?
Students benefit from learning astronomy for many reasons:
- Astronomy inspires us to worship God. When God wanted to contrast Himself with powerless idols, He directed His people to simply look up contemplate His creative power. “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing” (Isaiah 40:25-26).
- Astronomy intersects with classical literature. Having a background in basic astronomy can help kids to more fully comprehend classical literature that refer to stellar observations. Have students study Plato’s “Myth of Er” in The Republic, or how Odysseus used the stars to navigate his ship in The Odyssey, or the spheres of the heavens in Dante’s Paradiso.
- Astronomy intersects with mythology. Behind every constellation is a story. Ancient cultures all looked for pictures in the sky, and many ancient people used the stars as a canvas for storytellers to pass on traditions about mythological figures. Studying Classical Astronomy affords students an opportunity to study mythology and then “pin” what they’ve learned to pictures they see from night to night in the sky.
- Astronomy highly impacts the rhythms of our daily lives. God gave us the sun, moon, and stars to serve as “signs and for seasons, and for days and years” (Genesis 1:14). The rising and setting of the sun establishes our daily rhythms. The passing of seasons determine our yearly rhythms. Everyday realities we take for granted, like the hands on our clocks, our 12-month calendars, and even the grid-like layout of our roads are all based on astronomy.
- Astronomy intersects with mathematics. For the more ambitious students, Classical Astronomy is a natural vehicle to use math. Studying the basic motions of the heavens can help students apply math to the ancient craft of navigation and time-keeping.
- Astronomy is part of a classical education. Astronomy used to be a part of the time-honored “Seven Liberal Arts” of classical education. The seven arts were made up of the “Trivium” (meaning “the three ways,” grammar, logic, and rhetoric) and the “Quadriuvium” (meaning “the four ways.” arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy). By studying astronomy students become a part of a long-standing tradition that has benefited western learners for hundreds of years.
- Astronomy intersects with the Bible. Many significant passages in the Bible turn around a basic understanding of astronomy. What were the monthly and yearly festivals in Israel and how do these relate to the phases of the moon? Why was the Star of Bethlehem significant to the magi? What made the sun stand still when Joshua battled the Amorites? What made Hezekiel’s sundial shadow turn back? What cosmic imagery was God using during the parting of the Red Sea? How do the heavens “declare the glory of the Lord” (Psalm 19)?
There are many benefits to a child learning astronomy. In a future post I will talk about the curriculum I have used for astronomy.