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Your Guide to Viewing the 2024 Total Solar Eclipse With Kids

Source: Canva
Source: Canva

Springtime has always been one of my favorite seasons—whether I’m planning a spring break staycation, making garden plans, or exploring new ways to decorate Easter eggs—and this year, there’s an extra special event on our calendar: watching the total solar eclipse with our family.

I have vivid memories of experiencing a solar eclipse in grade school and the fun pinhole projector we used in the schoolyard to watch it—and as a mom, I can’t wait to share this special experience with my own children years later. If you’re excited to view this total eclipse with your family, here are some tips to consider as you plan, along with a handful of creative ways to make the experience memorable for children. 

Viewing the Total Solar Eclipse With Kids

What is a total solar eclipse, and what makes this one special?

On April 8, 2024, Canada, the United States, and Mexico will experience a total solar eclipse, an astronomical event where the Earth’s moon crosses perfectly in front of the sun’s path. While eclipses themselves are fairly common, occurring two to four times every year, this total eclipse is actually fairly unique. 

Jamie Lombardi, Ph.D., is a professor of physics at Allegheny College, where he teaches courses on astronomy and astrophysics, and he says that in any given city, it’s actually rare to see a total solar eclipse.

“Take, for example, my hometown of Meadville, Pennsylvania, where the last total eclipse occurred in 1806,” he said. “What makes the 2024 eclipse so special is how the path of totality passes right across heavily populated regions of North America.”

The fact that the path of totality for this eclipse coincides with so many densely populated regions of the country makes this particular eclipse special because, as Dr. Lombardi pointed out, the path of totality for any given eclipse will only ever cover a very small portion of the Earth’s surface. 

“Given this small coverage, of the over 200 total solar eclipses that occur in the 21st century, only eight will be visible from somewhere in the continental United States—the next one being in 2044.”

“Of the over 200 total solar eclipses that occur in the 21st century, only eight will be visible from somewhere in the continental United States—the next one being in 2044.”

Planning your eclipse viewing experience

If you’re unsure of where to start while planning your eclipse plans, NASA has an explainer devoted to the 2024 eclipse, complete with a map showing the path of totality and a timetable showing when each location will experience totality at their geographic coordinates. 

Source: Canva

Don’t forget to check your local community calendar or the events page of nearby educational institutions that may be offering a viewing experience or block party events for local residents.

If your local community doesn’t have plans for a gathering or you chose to travel to a location closer to the path of totality, consider scouting your eclipse viewing location ahead of schedule. You’ll want to be mindful of nearby light pollution (i.e., street lamps and other artificial lights), as these sources of light can be triggered by the darkness of an eclipse. 

While you’ll get the best view of an eclipse on a clear, sunny day, if it turns out the forecast calls for clouds, Dr. Lombardi encouraged everyone to grab eclipse glasses nonetheless. “The Sun’s intense brightness allows its image to penetrate even moderately thick clouds,” he said. “With a little patience and luck, you may be able to watch the partial phases progress even on a somewhat cloudy day. Even if clouds preclude direct observations, the temperature fluctuations and sudden darkness of totality will still provide a memorable experience.”

Safety precautions for viewing the total solar eclipse

As you prepare to enjoy the eclipse with your family, there are a handful of safety measures to take into account as you plan. First and foremost, every person who is viewing the eclipse should ensure they’re doing so with the proper protective eyewear. 

Dr. Sara Goss is an optometrist in Meadville, Pennsylvania, and as a mother of two young children, she’s especially excited to share the eclipse with her family. She said that taking the proper precautions is crucial to ensuring that viewing the eclipse doesn’t lead to long-term vision damage. “Viewing the eclipse without proper protection can cause vision loss and/or scotomas (blind spots).” 

While these symptoms can be temporary, Dr. Goss warned that this type of damage can also become permanent, so if you have plans to share the eclipse with your children, don’t forget to also keep a close eye on them throughout the event and ensure that no one in your group ever looks at the sun or the eclipse without the proper protective eyewear. 

Where to buy glasses to view the total solar eclipse

While we were lucky enough that our local optometrist’s office had sets of protective glasses to hand out to community members ahead of the event, if you’re unable to find a set locally, Dr. Goss shared that The American Astronomical Society has a list of recommended suppliers. She ordered through American Paper Optics for her local practice, and she also recommends Lunt Solar Systems, which also has kid’s options available for little ones who will be in attendance.

“Children need to be constantly supervised while viewing the eclipse to ensure the glasses stay in place,” Dr. Goss said, noting that it’s especially important that the child is able to understand the importance of not removing the glasses until the end. 

Ahead of the eclipse event, don’t forget to do a quick try-on of the eclipse glasses to ensure that everyone has a comfortable fit. If you’re not able to secure child-sized safety glasses, Dr. Goss recommended this fun paper plate method for ensuring more comfortable and complete coverage. 

Even with solar glasses, it’s especially important to make sure that if you are planning to view the eclipse through a lens of any type—for example, binoculars, telescopes, or cameras—that you only do so with a special safety filter, Dr. Goss noted.

Solar eclipse crafts and projects

For an even more interactive (and safer) viewing experience, consider gathering a handful of household objects to use as optical projectors throughout the eclipse! Anything from colanders, slotted spoons, and even your fingers held criss-cross to create a shadow on the ground can allow you and your little ones to track the sun’s progress across the sky during the eclipse. The shadows cast on the ground will reveal repeating crescent shapes as the eclipse approaches totality and again as the moon slowly crosses away from the sun. 

Make Eclipse Crafts

There are dozens of pinhole projector crafts, too (using paper, boxes, and more) if you’re looking for a fun DIY project with your kiddos ahead of the event, and if you don’t have time to plan in advance, Dr. Lombardi encourages parents to grab a white sheet. With this simple setup, you can observe the phenomenon of “shadow bands” that usually appear in the two minutes before and after totality. 

“These bands are alternating bright and dark regions that occur in the Moon’s shadow, typically spaced inches apart near the edge of the umbra. You can see them on any surface, but they’re most easily seen on a white background. A fun thing to do with kids is to lay down a white sheet in an open space and see if you can spot these bands together.”

Try a Disco Ball

For a fun spin on the eclipse projector idea, Dr. Lombardi said it might be time to dust off our disco balls.

“Each mirror tile struck by sunlight reflects an image of the Sun, resulting in a plethora of crescent Suns dancing across the ground, fences, trees, or any other nearby surfaces,” he said. “As long as you avoid staring directly at the disco ball, it provides a fun and effortless way to monitor the eclipse.”

disco ball eclipse viewing with kids
Source: Elevae Visuals

Don’t Forget to Listen

While watching the eclipse is an amazing sensory experience in and of itself, don’t forget to tune into the other changes happening around you as the light changes. In particular, it can be fun to listen for the nocturnal animals that will respond to light changes—from crickets chirping, birds singing, and frogs croaking, the sudden onset of “dusk” can result in an amazing auditory experience, too, as the moon passes in front of the sun. 

Sharing the total solar eclipse with kids will be special

Whether you choose to host an elaborately-themed party full of DIYs and decorative snacks, or if you prefer a simple, no-frills route of driving to a quiet field and soaking up every moment of the natural phenomenon, there are so many ways to enjoy this memorable moment. For Dr. Lombardi, as special as this moment is, one of the things he’s looking forward to most is the fact he’ll be sharing it with loved ones. 

“I love astrophysics, and in particular, I love stars,” Dr. Lombardi said. “The idea that [the sun] will be blotted out from the sky in the middle of the day is almost magical. However, what excites me most about the upcoming eclipse is the opportunity to gather with my family and community as we share this experience together.”