By Steve Dunkelberger
The long days of summer and the days off from school often mean extended hours of “kiddo entertainment” are required. Fear not. There are options available that don’t include Netflix or video games. And they don’t have to empty your wallet either.
Tops of the night-time, fun-time options can be found at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College, where the Tacoma Astronomical Society hosts free public viewing events each month. The events include some educational lectures, discussions and demonstrations to prime the event. When the sun falls, visitors can venture to the nearby hillside plateau to peek through eyepieces to view the heavens on an array of telescopes that range from home-made types to computerized models both large and really large.
The society is a non-profit, all-voluteer organization dedicated to the sole purpose of fostering an interest in and understanding of astronomy through public activities that are both informative and approachable to the public of all ages.
Stellar volunteers at its events generally have up to a dozen telescopes of all sorts preset for looks at the Moon, planets, star clusters, nebulae, galaxies, double stars and constellations as well as are on hand to answer questions about all-things celestial. Each month brings a new topic as well as new views of the stars, making these astronomy events a go-to series for any parent with children bent on science or pondering the heavens.
The summer series includes: “Astronomy Fair XII” on Aug. 2; “Women in Astronomy” on Aug. 23; and “Cosmic Collisions” on Sept. 13. The society’s annual Halloween Special has become a tradition for many families around Pierce County since children get a chance to solve a mystery and get candy from aliens from other planets. The event is set for Oct. 25 this year. All activities are free and open to the public. Night views start at 9 p.m. and end at midnight.
Any family interested in diving into astronomy this summer can attend the society’s “Summer Star Party” by traveling to Goldendale July 24 to July 27 and camp out with stargazers. Tickets are just $25. The extended weekend will have potlucks, games, lessons and telescoping both day and night and for all ages.
Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium offers its “Snooze Overnights” that would make any child feel special and energized since they can actually spend the night at the zoo to see the behind-the-scenes work zoo keepers do when the park is closed and learn all along the way. The next “Snoozin’ on the Sound” is set for Sept. 12-13. Just bring a tent and get ready for a truly wild night at the zoo.
Metro Parks of Tacoma has special trail and shore programs through the summer, but most of them are during daylight hour. There is, however, the “Creatures of the Night” walk around Tacoma Nature Center set for Oct. 26, when children can learn about nocturnal animals and all things that go bump in the night.
Since this is well after summer has ended, parents with a flashlight can lead their own nature hike with children around their neighborhood to see raccoons, owls and possums with relative certainty. Take along a check list and make it a scavenger hunt for all ages. Kids with flashlights, even in the confines of a backyard, can spend hours looking at the simplest of things. A quick way to make the evening festive is to insert glow sticks into balloons. Blow them up and toss them around. Arm each child with a glow stick and a game of tag or hide and seek will shortly follow.
Toss up a tent in the backyard and a plate of s’mores, and the evening is complete.
If you are looking for something more organized, even non-sports lovers often find Rainiers baseball games at Cheney Stadium fun since the nights always include a host of family activities. With tickets starting at just $10, people can sit under the sky to watch Triple A baseball, have a chance to catch a stray baseball, run with Rhubarb, the team mascot and just be goofy in hopes of drawing the attention of a camera operator. Pretty much all dancing children will find themselves on the big screen. All Friday games end with fireworks.
All photos courtesy of Steve Dunkelberger