Anyone who hasn’t heard of the solar eclipse happening on August 21 has likely been living under a rock. Oregon is especially focused on this event because it marks the first U.S. location within the Path of Totality, where projections expect almost two minutes of darkness starting at about 10:15 a.m. After passing through Oregon, the phenomenon will be observed across the country, with its final American pit stop in South Carolina at 2:42 pm.
In Portland, we are expecting 99% totality, which eclipse chasers assure us is pretty neat. Those seeking 100% totality are migrating southward in droves, many setting up a day or two ahead of time at sold-out campsites or other venues within the Path.
Whether you are staying local for the partial eclipse or making the trek for the total eclipse, there are a few ways to get you and your family ready for the big day. Below are four tips to make the eclipse a successful family event!
1. Check out eclipse books, sites, kits, and videos
In the days leading up to the eclipse, take the opportunity to chat science with your kiddos. Our crash course started with a solar system poster in the toy room to lay the foundation. Our next stop was the extremely cool Eclipse Simulator that can show you a timelapse of what the sky will look like on August 21 in any given city in or near the Path of Totality — worth checking out to give your kids a great visual of what they can expect.
From there, we explored an Eclipse Kit from Space Racers, the popular STEM-based children’s series on Sprout. Space Racers teamed up with the U.S. Space and Rocket Center and Space Camp to teach kids across the country the science behind the eclipse in a way kids can understand. Our family explored the map of the U.S., highlighting the Path of Totality, using it to explain to our sons why we’re traveling not-too-far from Portland to see the total eclipse. Included in the kit is a short booklet that covers the basics, teaches you how to make a pinhole projector, and discusses the importance of eye protection.
UPDATE: The Space Racers Family Eclipse Kit was such a success that they sold out! However, Space Racers is dedicated to bringing the science of the eclipse to children for this epic event, and they are now offering the kit as a free digital download. Head to their website to check it out and download your copy! You will need to procure eclipse glasses separately.
Also! Space Racers is going to air a special episode, “Total Eclipse,” on Sprout on Sunday, August 20 and Monday, August 21. Get your Space Racers fans ready! More information is available on the Space Racers website.
2. Make your own mini-eclipse at home
This is an easy enough activity to do that allows you to demonstrate the basic concept of an eclipse: find a large ball or globe (to represent the Earth) and a smaller ball (to represent the moon). Have your kid(s) hold the “Earth” and make the “moon” orbit around it. Use a flashlight to show how the moon can cast a shadow on the Earth, and how, if it is in just the right position, the small ball can cut off all the light. My kids did this experiment a few times, with each kid having a different role (three-year-old as narrator = hilarious!).
2. Talk to your kids about eye safety and consider your options
This cannot be understated: safe viewing of the eclipse is mandatory. In its most basic form, this means everyone should wear eclipse glasses, which must adhere to ISO 1231-2:2015 international safety standards. Reports of counterfeit eclipse glasses are rampant, as some manufacturers are falsely claiming ISO compliance. If you have concerns, a good starting place to verify the safety of your glasses is this list. Additionally, check your glasses for any scratches or damage before using them.
Once you have the proper eyewear, talk to your children about the plan of attack. If you are viewing the partial eclipse (i.e. not in the Path of Totality), eclipse glasses must be worn at all times. For those lucky enough to be in the Path of Totality, you must wear the glasses while any sunlight is present, but can remove them to experience totality before placing them back on again once the sun returns.
If this seems complicated, think it over. Can your kiddo follow these steps? Children who might tear off the glasses, have trouble listening to instructions, or put their eye safety in jeopardy might want to sit out the eclipse. In his book “Go See The Eclipse: And Take a Kid with You,” author and astronomer Chap Percival suggests children under four years old not view the eclipse. As a reminder, he points out that a child under four will be anywhere from seven to twelve for the next eclipse (though it will require more traveling!) and may be better listeners by then.
4. If you are traveling, take proper precautions and be aware of delays
This merits a mention: traffic is expected to be horrendous on the day of the eclipse. Consider leaving a day or two ahead of time to avoid massive jams. Pack plenty of snacks, entertainment, water, and toilet paper for the ride. Oregon is deeply concerned about the possibility of wildfires and the difficulty of emergency personnel being able to respond; be good stewards of the environment and be sure those around you are as well.
If you haven’t squared away your plans yet, most campsites and large events are already sold out. Visit the National Eclipse website for a list of events by city to see what options remain.
Staying put? Make a party of it! Many people are choosing to enjoy the experience from their front doorstep. Meet up with your neighbors or throw a small block party. OMSI and Portland Children’s Museum are both hosting viewing events; public transportation is recommended, as parking is limited.
Whatever your plans, make the event memorable by engaging with your kids and seizing the opportunity to get in a super cool science lesson!
What are you doing for the eclipse? Let us know your plans in the comments!
What the eclipse will look like in 19 different Oregon cities – OregonLive’s rendition of the eclipse throughout Oregon
NASA eclipse page – Eclipse information from the experts
Eclipse events by city – Find an event near you
Eclipse information by city – General information on the entire Path of Totality and where you might find optimal viewing