Phases of the Moon and Ways to Teach Them

Illustration of the moon with an arrow around it and the Groovy Lab in a Box logo. The text reads "3 Unique Ways to Teach STEMists the Phases of the Moon"

STEMists are fascinated by the phases of the Moon.  Most likely you started wondering about the Moon in your childhood after hearing about the ‘man in the Moon’ and the ‘cow that jumped over the Moon’ in nursery rhymes.  Early childhood exposure to the Moon often brings questions, especially about the different shapes the Moon appears to STEMists on Earth.

Order of the Moon Phases

STEMists learn that the Moon itself does not change its shape and that the Moon phases are named to describe their appearance and place in the phase cycle. Plus, STEMists learn that “waxing” means growing, or increasing in illumination and “waning” means shrinking; “Gibbous” means “swollen on one side,” referring to the phases where the Moon is more than half illuminated or more than half dark.

Illustration that shows how the sun affects the phases of the moon.

There are many ways to teach STEMists about the phases of the Moon. Here are three groovy methods.

#1: The STEMist, the Sun, and the Moon


  • Styrofoam ball of a size similar to a tennis ball
  • Bamboo skewer
  • Lamp with removable shade or a desk lamp


Earth – STEMist (You!)
Sun – Lamp
Moon – Ball

  1. Poke the sharp end of a bamboo skewer halfway through the styrofoam ball.
  2. Darken a room by turning off all the lights.  It’s best to do this activity at night when it’s dark outside or you can cover the windows with a sheet or blanket. GROOVY SAFETY: Ask a groovy grown-up for help.
  3. Remove the lamp shade and place the lamp at eye level on a dresser or shelf.  Once you have the lamp positioned safely, stand about 3 feet in front of the lamp. Then hold the Moon in front of you so it’s between you and the Sun.
  4. To simulate the moon’s orbit around the Earth, stay in one spot while you slowly turn your body in a circle counterclockwise (to the left). Keep your arm perfectly straight in front of you and the Moon at eye level. GROOVY NOTE:  Pay attention to the shadows created on the Moon which mimic the phases of the moon we see here on Earth.
  5. Rotate all the way around until you have completed a full lunar cycle and are facing the Sun again.

To help you remember the order of the phases of the moon try this GROOVY MEMORY TRICK:

Leading to a Full Moon:
Waxing: When the Moon is on the right, getting bigger every night.

Leading to a New Moon:
Waning: When the Moon is waning, on the left it’s fading.

Illustration of phases of the moon with descriptions.

#2: Oreo cookies

Oreo cookies turn into Moon shadows easily by scraping off the middle crème with a Popsicle stick (eating the extra crème is optional, though we imagine not many STEMists will pass this up!) STEMists place their scraped Oreo on a plate or piece of construction paper to show the Moon phases. This method is always a favorite with STEMists and certainly the sweetest!

Open Oreo cookies arranged in a circle around the Groovy Lab in a Box logo.  Each cookie depicts a phase of the moon with the amount of cream left on the cookie.
Phases of the Moon

#3: Faces of the moon

Bob Crelin, author of “Faces of the Moon,” developed a lesson plan for teachers to download to teach their 4th – 8th grade students about the phases of the Moon.  Step-by-step instruction is provided that works alongside pages in his book.  For example, children will learn that “month” comes from “Moon.” And, in the past, a month represented the time it took to complete one cycle of the changing Moon phases, which is approximately 29.5 days, similar to our monthly calendar.

Another part of “Faces of the Moon” is to model the moon phases by hanging a “Moon” from a ceiling.  A Styrofoam ball painted half black and hung from the ceiling will provide a glimpse of shadowing when the children walk around the Moon— just like the phases of the Moon.

 If your STEMist is interested in the learning more about the moon and telescopes, be sure to check out the “Moon Dance” Groovy Lab in a Box or sign up for a groovy subscription today!

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