Keystone Science School astronomy program offers children, adults a chance to learn |

Keystone Science School astronomy program offers children, adults a chance to learn

Jessica Smith
A young student looks through the 14-inch reflective telescope at the Keystone Science School observatory. Summit County fourth-graders and their families can participate in the KSS astronomy program evening, filled with hands-on activities and the chance eto look through the telescope.
Keystone Science School / Special to the Daily |

Keystone Science School Astronomy Program

Dates: Jan. 13, 14, 15, 29 and Feb. 3 and 4

Time: 7-8:30 p.m.

To volunteer to help on astronomy night, contact Kristina Horton at (970) 468-2098 or at No experience necessary. Volunteers should arrive around 5:15 p.m. and will like leave around 9 p.m.

Peak Yoga donation class

Date: Jan. 24

Time: 9-10:15 a.m.

Location: Peak Yoga Studio, 256 Dillon Ridge Road, Dillon

All abilities welcome. Mats provided. All costs will benefit the Keystone Science School

Contact: (970) 468-0331 or visit

Normally, Play-Doh is simply a ball of brightly colored clay. But in the hands of volunteers and children at the Keystone Science School (KSS), it becomes much more — a link to the greater mysteries of the universe, and a science lesson on top of that.

Now entering into its fourth year, the astronomy program reaches into the classroom of fourth-graders throughout Summit County, offering them one hour of classroom learning, with the opportunity to follow up with an evening of more hands-on science activities, plus a glimpse of the heavens through the science school’s telescope. They can also invite their parents.


“It’s fun because you get a whole family, sometimes you get grandparents and parents, the students, and sometimes you have younger kids, … so you get the whole generation of the family coming. Really it’s just a fun social gathering for the families.”

Daniel Van Horn
staff and curriculum manager for school programs at KSS

While many of the children who participate in the KSS programs and summer camps come from the Front Range and other schools, programs like astronomy for fourth-graders and ecology for third-graders reach out specifically to Summit County students.

The topics chosen for each grade level correspond with state standards. Fourth grade studies astronomy, which lends itself to unique opportunities with the science school.

First, instructors from KSS go into fourth-grade classrooms to teach a one-hour lesson having to do with the science behind daytime and nighttime, and the changing of the seasons.

“It really depends on how the school has put together their curriculum as to whether it’s a review, whether it’s a new thing, whether we’re adding on to what they’ve already learned,” said Daniel Van Horn, staff and curriculum manager for school programs at KSS.

The follow-up component to the classroom lesson is a non-mandatory option of attending astronomy family night at the science school. On six different nights over the next two months, staff and volunteers will gather at KSS to present hands-on activities and experiences for the students and their families. Each night is dedicated to students from a different elementary school. There is no cost.

Getting there is easy, too. Vans from the science school gather at the elementary school parking lot to drive the students and their families to the Keystone facility, and then back again when the night is over.

The night consists of a variety of hands-on experiences for the students on astronomy-related topics, from size of the different planets (that’s where the Play-Doh comes in) to star constellations, moon phases and, of course, the chance to look at the real thing through the school’s 14-inch reflecting telescope.

“In most cases, it’s going to be the kids leading their parents through this,” said school programs director Christyanne Melendez. “I think it’s a really cute opportunity.”

Watching the family dynamics is one of his favorite parts, too, Van Horn admitted.

“It’s fun because you get a whole family, sometimes you get grandparents and parents, the students, and sometimes you have younger kids, … so you get the whole generation of the family coming,” he said. “Really it’s just a fun social gathering for the families.”


A team of volunteers supports the KSS instructors on astronomy night. Anyone who is interested in spending time with children or learning about astronomy can volunteer, Melendez said. Volunteers will be given a script for their station, and act as facilitators for the various activities.

“Everything’s really straightforward,” said Van Horn.

The Play-Doh station, for example, is meant to show off the difference in size between various planets in the solar system. The volunteer reads off the instructions, which require students to divide their Play-Doh balls into smaller and smaller segments, and then compare them.

“It gets a little bit messy, but it’s fun,” said Van Horn of the popular station.

One local business has jumped whole-heartedly at the chance to volunteer at the science school. Employees and clients at Peak Yoga in Dillon have offered to volunteer for one of the astronomy program nights.

Additionally, the studio will be holding a donation class on Jan. 24 from 9-10:15 a.m. during which all proceeds will be given to the Keystone Science School.

“We just wanted to get involved with the community a bit more and it’s a really cool organization,” said Peak Yoga owner Pinna Gallant. Gallant has plans to raise money for several other local charities with donation classes throughout the year, but Keystone Science School will be the first. “We just really want to make sure we’re giving back; it’s a really important part of what we’re doing.”

She added that she’s looking forward to volunteering, and getting a peek through the big telescope.

“I also just really want to see what the whole program looks like, and I’m excited to see all the kids get lit up by science,” she said. As the daughter of a physicist and engineer, she’s always enjoyed the subject. “I had science around me, growing up, my whole life.”

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