With a little planning, you can make the most of the large, bright first full moon in September.
The first full moon in September, or nearest the autumnal equinox, is known as Harvest Moon. The peak of the 2021 Harvest Moon is on October 20. Depending on moon cycles, the Harvest Moon can occur as late as the first week in October.
What Makes the Harvest Moon Special?
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The Harvest Moon rises nearer the time of sunset than most full moons, so the moon appears bigger, brighter, and more colorful than usual. All celestial bodies appear reddish when they appear lower in the sky. The extra light reflected by Harvest Moon would help farmers to harvest their crops later into the evening.
About the Autumnal Equinox
The autumnal equinox marks the beginning of the fall season. Likewise, the vernal equinox marks the beginning of spring, and the June and December solstices mark the beginnings of summer and winter. For more information on the September equinox, as well as the other equinox and solstices, see “The September Equinox Explained” at timeanddate.com.
The autumnal fall equinox (and the vernal spring equinox) occurs when the sun passes directly over the equator and the earth is not tilted toward or away from the sun. During this time, night and day are about the same length. In the Northern Hemisphere, the fall equinox occurs in late September and the spring equinox in March.
September equinox is, according to folklore and myth, a time of balance when day and night are equal. Interpret the concept of balance in a variety ways for fun and enjoyment during this seasonally festive time.
Activities for Harvest Moon Time
In fall, when the Harvest Moon rises in the sky, use these activities and lesson plans to teach earth science, language arts, art, and social studies content.
Earth Science Lesson: The Autumnal Equinox
- Share with children selected portions of We Gather Together: Celebrating the Harvest Season by Wendy Pfeffer [Dutton Children’s Books, 2006] to teach them about the fall equinox.
- Present the equinox diagram on page 8 and read the text on page 9 as the introduction to a discussion about what happens on the autumnal equinox.
- Read page 17 to introduce the idea that the Harvest Moon is/was bright enough for people to continue to harvest their crops at night.
- Discuss the Equinox Facts on pages 32-33.
- For assessment, have children use a flashlight and globe to depict the autumnal equinox.
Earth Science Lesson: Observing the Harvest Moon
- Provide children with journals and colored pencils. Have them sit outside some night on or near October 4th to observe the Harvest Moon. If possible, have them observe it every night at the same time for a week and keep a log of their observations about its color, size, position, and so on.
- Because of the Earth’s tilt in fall, the Harvest Moon may seem bigger, brighter, and much more colorful than other full moons. After children have seen it, discuss why it might look so big when it is close to the horizon.
- Begin by showing children a copy of the Ebbinghaus illusion and asking which of the middle circles is bigger. Children will likely say the one on the left. However, both are exactly the same size.
- Explain that some people think this illusion explains why the moon sometimes seems big. A moon hanging near the horizon sits low in the sky, so you see it right next to objects with lots of visible detail, like the tops of houses and trees. A moon hanging higher up in the sky, however, is surrounded by empty darkness. Objects surrounded by other smaller objects look bigger, just as in the Ebbinghaus illusion, and so a moon sitting just above the horizon near detailed Earth objects may look larger than one hanging higher up in the sky.
- For assessment, have children use their observations to write a couple of sentences about what they have learned about the Harvest Moon.
- As an extension activity, take the time in other months to observe the other full moons, and encourage your children to keep a year-long Moon Journal.
Integrated Art and Language Arts Activity: Write an Illustrated Harvest Moon Tale
- Read aloud the books Possum’s Harvest Moon by Anne Hunter [Houghton Mifflin, 1996] and Hello, Harvest Moon by Ralph Fletcher [Clarion Books, 2003].
- Discuss with children how the Harvest Moon is depicted through the illustrations and text of these books.
- For Possum’s Harvest Moon: Note the effect the Harvest Moon has on Possum and on the other creatures. Identify descriptive words used to tell how it looks and acts. Discuss how it is portrayed in the illustrations.
- For Hello, Harvest Moon: Note how the Harvest Moon is personified, or treated as if it can think and act like a person. Discuss how it is portrayed in the illustrations. Summarize the things it is described as doing. Identify similes, or comparisons made using like or as.
- Compare and contrast the two books, focusing on how the Harvest Moon is depicted in each and how it affects the lives of people and creatures on Earth.
- For assessment, have children use the illustrations and text of these two books as models and inspiration for writing their own illustrated Harvest Moon Tale.
Social Studies Enrichment Activity
- Cultures around the world hold Harvest Moon celebrations. Help children research and present their findings celebrations such as the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival or the Japanese Moon-Viewing Festival.
- Check your own community to see if there are any local Harvest Moon fairs or festivals that children could attend. Or, you could hold your own Harvest Fair.
Children lead such busy lives these days and spend so much time indoors, especially after nightfall, that it is easy for them to become disconnected from the cycles of nature. Taking time to observe the Harvest Moon for a night or two can deepen children’s appreciation of the constant changes happening in the world around them. And once the Harvest Moon has waned away, why not try other fall lessons such as why autumn leaves change color or visiting an apple orchard?