How Watching a Solar Eclipse with Toddlers Actually Went Down

The Solar Eclipse of 21 Aug 2017

On Aug 21, 2017 we experienced a solar eclipse. Parts of the United States even experienced a total solar eclipse. You may recall that the day before the eclipse, I was still trying to figure out the best way for our toddlers to experience the eclipse, participate in some eclipse related citizen science, and not take too much time off from my day job. (See: Watching a Solar Eclipse with Toddlers).

The Original Eclipse Viewing Plan

I decided our little crew would participate in a citizen science activity called Life Responds, organized by the California Academy of Sciences using the iNaturalist platform. With Life Responds, the goal was to find wildlife and observe their behavior before during and after the eclipse. I was a little nervous that our boys would think the eclipse so cool that they would look directly at the sun and burn their little eyes. My plan was for all of us to sit in our screened in porch in our backyard, find a squirrel to watch, and make observations. Easy.

But, it just so happens that the solar eclipse fell on a Monday. And Mondays are one of the days our fantastic nanny, Lauren, comes over to watch the boys while I work. One of the things we love about working with Lauren is her many years of experience caring for kids of all ages. Lauren knows kids. And she’s always looking for new ways to engage the boys with the events happening in the world. Shortly after I posted my blog, she reached out and asked me what my plans were for the eclipse.

I told her what I had in mind. Then, she improved the idea.

How We ACTUALLY Watched the Eclipse

Instead of watching the eclipse from our porch, Lauren suggested we walk over to a local park and watch it from there. This particular park has a large green lawn that often hosts peewee soccer and it offered lots of space for viewing the eclipse. Plenty of other people thought the park was a good place for eclipse viewing too which added to the excitement of the event.

We punched holes in the sides of the solar eclipse glasses and added some string, so they would fit around the boys little heads safely.

At the park, the boys helped us look for squirrels and eventually spotted two if them gallivanting in a nearby evergreen tree. We set up camp near the base of that tree.

We were ready.

Base camp near evergreen for solar eclipse
Base camp near evergreen for solar eclipse – Can you spot the squirrel?

We made our pre-eclipse Life Responds observations of the squirrels on iNaturalist. Then we had 30 min to wait before the eclipse got started. No problem. We were at a park. The boys headed for the slides and swings and played happily. By the time the eclipse started, they were both worn out and ready to have a snack. We headed back to our tree (our squirrels were still there) to eat and rest. Lauren and I took turns keeping an eye on the eclipse and an eye on the boys.

With the boys happily fed and a little calmer post-playtime, we tried to get them to see the eclipse too.

Captain Curious heading to the playground
Captain Curious heading to the playground

Two Toddler’s Reactions to the Eclipse

My fears that the boys would stare directly at the sun were entirely unfounded so I’m glad Lauren suggested we go somewhere fun. To the boys, this was just another day at the park, which meant they could run off their energy. A lot more fun that sitting on our porch!

Captain Curious thought the solar eclipse glasses were cool to play with but keeping them on his face? Not a chance! Eclipse glasses, which you probably know by now, are basically completely black if you’re looking anywhere other than the sun. That wasn’t going to fly with him. Off they came before he ever had a chance to see the eclipse. We made several attempts at different times but his reaction was always the same. No way.

Inspector Inquiry, however, was a little more game to try them. He sat nicely on Lauren’s lap while she situated his glasses. Then she put her own glasses on and they laid back and attempted to look at the eclipse together. It didn’t last long, but there’s a slim chance that he saw some of the eclipse. Since his vocabulary is still pretty limited we have no way to be sure. But we’re excited that he tried!

Our awesome nanny Lauren and Inspector Inquiry viewing the eclipse.
Our awesome nanny Lauren and Inspector Inquiry viewing the eclipse.

We’re not entirely sure the boys even noticed the dimming of the sky during the event, although we did try to point it out to them. But, there’s another total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024 so we can try again then!

By the time the eclipse had begun to wane, both boys were wearing out so Lauren took them back for lunch and nap and I stuck it out a little longer to make our post-eclipse squirrel observation for Life Responds.

The Squirrels’ Reactions to the Eclipse

Participating in Life Responds turned out to be the perfect level of citizen science activity for us during the eclipse. With two adults we were able to observe the squirrels and the boys without losing track of any of them. If I had tried to do this alone, it would have been a disaster, with kids and squirrels running every which way.

The two squirrels we watched were playing happily together in the lower branches of the tree (2-4 ft above ground level) prior to the eclipse. As the eclipse progressed, both took off for the top most branches of the tree and stayed there. They made it pretty difficult for me to capture their picture at that stage, but we managed some okay photos to upload for the Life Responds project. By 30 minutes post-eclipse, both squirrels were back down in the bottom branches of the tree, scampering around as if nothing ever happened.

"Our" squirrel took refuge at the top of the tree during the eclipse.
“Our” squirrel took refuge at the top of the tree during the eclipse.

Getting Ready for 2024

All in all, I’m really glad we had the opportunity to watch the solar eclipse with the boys. It was an adventure for all of us and one I would happily do over again if I could. If Life Responds is still running during the next total solar eclipse in 2024, I hope we’ll be in a position to travel to an area that will experience totality so we can make more observations then. If we do, I’m going to try to bring a camera with a telephoto lens with me for capturing better wildlife photos. In the meantime, it will be really interesting to find out what other people reported to the Life Responds project! I’m waiting eagerly for the results.


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