How kids can safely watch the 2024 solar eclipse: Expert tips, precautions for troublemakers, eclipse glasses and more

The total solar eclipse is a great chance for young Canadians to get involved with science, but they should do it safely.

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Spectators in Chapel Hill, NC look on to the solar eclipse. What do parents need to know about the solar eclipse? (Image via Getty)
What do parents need to know about the solar eclipse? (Image via Getty)

A total solar eclipse is coming to parts of Canada on April 8, and with this, some parents might be wondering: What am I supposed to do with my young kids? For many Canadian parents or guardians, this astronomic event is exciting — but also kind of scary. The eclipse poses potential safety risks, especially when it comes to young children who may — unsure of what to do — stare directly at the sun. Or, in other cases, they may not have interest in observing the eclipse. While it may seem easier and safer to keep your kids inside or put on a movie to distract them during the big event, for astrophysicist Dr. Nikhil Arora, this total eclipse serves as a great opportunity to help educate young kids about space and get them excited about science.

Can kids watch the solar eclipse? An expert says yes

"This [eclipse] is a big deal," Arora, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Physics at Queen's University and Queen's Eclipse Outreach Coordinator, tells Yahoo Canada. "Mainly because it's a rare thing."

While eclipses occur every 18 months, a large portion of these take place over water, out of sight from many major cities. The chances of an eclipse occurring over one specific spot on the planet for an extended period of time, like the upcoming total solar eclipse are much more rare, happening almost every 400 years. "It's more than [a] once in a lifetime thing," Arora says.

Not to mention, these eclipses are — in a world that's increasingly exclusionary — accessible to everyone. "If you think about any other astronomical event, [if] you want to go see a meteor shower [or] you want to go see comets or see planets, you either need expensive telescopes or you need to drive somewhere," Arora notes. That's not the case with eclipses. "The cool thing about eclipses, [from] the time you have eclipse glasses, you just step out of your house or workspace and you're a part of it."

How kids can safely watch the solar eclipse

A young girl looking at the sun during a solar eclipse on a country park, family outdoor activity.
It's important to protect your eyesight when observing the eclipse. (Getty)

While concerns from parents over the safety of their children during a unique event like a total eclipse are valid, if properly prepared, kids can enjoy the eclipse as much as anyone. "If you think about it, most of the things that you do in the day are also very dangerous," Arora says.

"It's that ideology that we're trying to put forward that, yes it's dangerous but that doesn't mean you need to hide from it. It just means that we need to come up with ways so that people can actually experience the profoundness of it."

And do so in a fun and engaging way. As part of their outreach, Arora and members of the Ontario Eclipse Task Force — formed two years ago and comprised of various astronomers — came together to arm educators with an education bundle, arming them with resources to educate young people from grades 1 to 12 on the eclipse and offering various activities leading up to and on the date of the event.

"One of the coolest things that we've been going around and doing in schools has been pinhole camera workshops," Arora says. These cameras — made with various, low-cost materials — are one of the safest ways to view the eclipse, as kids will actually be looking away from the sun while viewing it. "So for really young kids they can actually use these to be a part of the eclipse, but it's totally safe because they're never actually staring," Arora says.

Are there any situations where I should keep my kids indoors?

While it's safe for kids to watch the eclipse if they're armed with eclipse glasses or a pinhole camera, there are some situations where it might make more sense for parents to keep them indoors.

"You can put the approved glasses on them, but make sure kids understand the rules," Dr. Ronald Benner, president of the American Optometric Association, recently told Yahoo Life.

Experts also say parents need to be honest with themselves about their children's behaviour.

If you don't think they're going to follow the rules, don't take them out — be safe, not sorry.Dr. Ronald Benner

Young kids may not understand rules and consequences; some may be prone to rule-breaking, and those with conditions like autism may have a harder time keeping the glasses on and following precautions. "If you don't think they're going to follow the rules, don't take them out — be safe, not sorry," Benner also told Yahoo Life.

For parents who do want to keep their kids inside, but still let them take in the eclipse, an online livestream between 2 and 4 p.m. will track the solar eclipse as it passes through the country.

How can I tell if solar eclipse glasses are legitimate?

According to a Global News report, as the solar eclipse nears, there's a surge in counterfeit eclipse glasses on the market, posing a significant risk to consumers. Fake glasses may not provide adequate protection, leading to potential eye damage when observing the solar phenomena.

The American Astronomical Society issued a warning last week saying fake eclipse glasses were "polluting the marketplace." In February, Amazon pulled counterfeit product listings, while a spokesperson told Global News, "it continuously monitor its store and takes action to maintain a safe selection for customers, including removing non-compliant products."

Experts emphasized the importance of buying glasses that meet the ISO 12312-2 international standard for safe solar viewing. One option for Canadians are the Soluna Solar Eclipse Glasses, produced in the USA by NASA-approved manufacturer American Paper Optics. The product is also recognized by the American Astronomical Society and verified for authenticity through the Amazon Transparency Program.

The Soluna glasses filter 100% of harmful ultra-violet and 99.999% of intense visible light. 

$30 at Amazon

According to the AAS, you shouldn't be able to see anything through proper eclipse glasses. You should only be able to faintly see very bright lights. "If you can see anything else, such as household furnishings or pictures on the wall, your glasses aren't dark enough for solar viewing," the agency warned.

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