Have a child who is into star gazing? Check out the Jacobsen Observatory on the University of Washington campus. There’s a lot to see and do here, from special programs and exhibits, to access to telescopes and a view via the 120-year-old refractor in the Observatory dome.
Students of the UW astronomy and physics departments give several free talks a year, covering a wide range of space topics. These events tend to be more appropriate for high school-age kids, but occasionally some are geared towards younger children. We attended one of these talks, and found that while it was probably best suited for older elementary age and up, there was still plenty of fun for a five-year-old.
The program took place in a classroom, where attendees were a wide range of ages, from kindergarten through high school. Each child was given a toy to examine and play with and a worksheet for noting observations. Then the presenter played a video showing how those objects behave in space. It was extremely exciting for my daughter to see her toy in zero gravity!
This was an early evening program, so we did not get a chance to view the night sky. This suited my daughter’s attention span fine, but if you attend a late program, there are several telescopes available after the program. Seattle Astronomical Society members may also demonstrate the refractor.
Overall, this is a fascinating place, and if you get the right program, a great place for kids to satisfy their curiosity about space. While the events are free (though donations are accepted), reservations are required, and they can fill up. It may be difficult to determine from the schedule of events which talks are best for younger children, so it is best to confirm what is appropriate before making reservations. Reservations are not needed to go into the dome, use the telescopes or view the exhibits in the Observatory.
Theodore Jacobsen Observatory
University of Washington Campus
east of the Burke Museum,
at the intersection of NE 45th Street and Memorial Way (17th Avenue NE)