What is the moon?

Fiona doesn’t really ask ‘why’, yet. She might get to that later. Her questions of choice are “What that?” and “What happen?”. She asks without pointing which means that, each time she asks, I have to play to detective to determine the “it” before I can explain.

There is a lot of information contained in those two phrases. Take the moon for example.

I still remember the first time she really saw the moon. It was a little over a year ago and the moon was shining in the back window of the car. Her car seat was rear facing, so it was shining full on her face.

“Oh, wow!” She said in long drawn out tones, “Oh, wow. Mama, mama, mama! Wha’ dat?”

“It’s the moon, Baby.” I smiled at her excitement. “It’s very pretty.”

“It moon circle.” She said.

“Yeah, it is full tonight. Sometimes it will look different, but it will still be the moon.” I said, knowing if I didn’t give her that piece of information, that I would be argued with later.

“Wha’ dat?” She asked again.

“Is it the moon?” I asked, trying to make sure she wasn’t looking at stars or something else.

“Yes. It moon.” She paused, dramatically, “It full. It circle. It light. It turn on. Do no turn off.” Yes, my then not-yet-two-year-old told me not to turn off the moon.

Over the past year, we’ve had more conversations about the moon. Some when it was full, others when it wasn’t. I’ve explained that the moon is very big and very far away so it looks small.  So, gradually, she’s adding to her store of information about the moon.

She’s been watching a lot of television this week. I will go ahead and take a pass on it because she’s been sick and I’ve been sick and we both needed rest. Next week, we will resume our pursuit of screen-free time. So, something on PBS Kids! did a show about the moon.

In it the moon was made of cheese.

So, she’s been trying to figure out what the moon is this week.

“What that?” She asks.

“What’s what, Kiddo?” I answer, trying to get a subject.

“What that moon?” She says, impatiently, with a tone that says I should be working harder to keep up.

“What’s the moon?” I ask, “Do you want to know what it’s made of?”

“Yes.” She said. She paused for a second then added skeptically, “It made cheese?”

I smile, because she’s so cool. My little girl, already questioning her sources!  I love it!, “Nope, it’s not made of cheese. It’s made of rocks.”

“Rock?” Her eyebrows go up and she goes and gets a piece of rock from our back patio and brings it to me. “Rock.”

“Yep,” I nod. “The moon is made of rock.”

She shakes her head, “No.”


“No. Gas. Like sun. Light.”

“Ohhh…” I follow her logic. “You think that the moon can’t be made of rock because it glows like the sun? You think that it has to be a gas, like the sun?” I carefully resist explaining that the sun is plasma, not gas. We haven’t covered atoms yet, so I’m not really sure she would grasp the idea of free electrons.  Gas will work for now.

“That’s a really smart way of thinking about it!”  I think through how to explain. “The moon is like a big mirror made of rock. The sun shines on it and it reflects the light back to us.” We’ve already talked about reflections and the way light bounces off things, so this should track. She knows that the sun is made of gas from They Might Be Giants album, Here Comes Science.

She looks at me, smiles a little, impish grin, and says, “The moon made cheese.”

Hmm… I would think that she hadn’t understood, but that grin says something else.

Once her Daddy got home she showed her true colors. She brought him a rock. “Daddy the moon rock. Like mirror. The Sun gas.”

Yep. That about sums it up. I don’t think “Why?” would have covered that nearly so well.

I rather like teaching science to her. It forces me to think in the simplest possible terms, without math or diagrams. You try explaining photosynthesis to a child who can’t developmentally grasp the idea of things that they can’t see or feel. It’ fun!  (Also, getting a two-year-old to say the word “photosynthesis”? Hilarious.)


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