Moon Phases

A Paper Moon: Observing Lunar Changes

Children observe and chart the phases of our Moon during a month. They recognize the patterns of phases and learn that the Moon does not create its own light.

The Activity
Explore with the children what they know about how our Moon changes as we view it from night to night.

  • Does it change? In what way? Is there a pattern? Over what time period?

Invite the children to make Moon observations. Provide each child with a paper plate and markers. Have them write their names across the top edge of the plate.

Assign each child a “Moon viewing date” to write across the bottom edge of the plate. Assign viewings for every other night for approximately 5 weeks, so that the children observe distinct changes in the phases of the Moon, and so that the cycle begins to repeat. Facilitators may want to keep the plates, providing the plate to the child on the day of his/her viewing.

On the day assigned to each child, he or she will observe the Moon and carefully color the plate to show how much of the Moon was illuminated and how much was dark.

Each week, have the children share what they observed on the nights of their viewings. Tape the plates to a wall in the order of observations. Once several (or all) of the plates are in place, invite the children to discuss their observations and conclusions.

  • Did the Moon change? How? Over what time? Is there a pattern?
  • What can they conclude about our Moon during the new Moon phase when there is no illumination of the Moon's face?
  • Does the Moon make its own light? (No, otherwise it would be light all the time and not only part of the month)
  • Why is the Moon bright? (It reflects the Sun)
  • Why do the children think the Moon “changed shape”? (It is actually the amount of illumination that changes)
  • What explanations did the SkyTellers' stories offer for the changing phases of our Moon?

As an extension, share the Phases for Phrases song with the children and use the plates to identify and learn the names of the phases.

See “Fruit for Phases” as a follow-up activity to explore the cause of lunar phases.


More Activities


Last updated
January 9, 2007


Ages 6–10

How Long?
While the children will need to observe the Moon throughout its monthly cycle, this activity can be modified to fit almost any schedule.

About 15–30 minutes each week for 5 weeks.

What's Needed?

• One paper plate (small or regular size) for each child
• Black and yellow crayons or markers
• Tape
• Wall for displaying the plates for 5 weeks
• Reference: Moon phases chart

Connections to the National Science Standard(s)

Standard A (grades K–4): The children will discover the Moon phase cycle through a simple investigation that involves Understand the explanation of the pattern of movement of the Moon across the sky, as well as the observable cycle of changes in the Moon's shape within a month.

Standard A (grades 5–8): The children will discover the Moon phase cycle through a simple investigation that involves Understand the scientific explanation of how objects in the solar system have regular and predictable motion that explains such phenomena as phases of the Moon and eclipses.