We used the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock, Find the Constellations by H.A. Rey, and the Handbook of Nature Study website to learn these constellations as well as help the girls with their nature journal entries.
According to Find the Constellations, there are only about 2,500 stars at a time that are visible to the naked eye. With telescopes, it's different; giving people opportunities to see millions of stars.
Even though Polaris (with the stress on "lar") isn't one of the brightest stars in the sky (it's only of 2nd magnitude), it's an important star because it gives the illusion of standing still while the other constellations revolve around it (see photograph below). This isn't how it works, but simply how it appears due to the Earth's rotation.
The Big Dipper
The Big Dipper is a group of seven bright stars. It is also known as the Drinking Gourd; and points the way to the North Star (Polaris). The Big Dipper is a part of the constellation Great Bear.
Both Polaris and the Big Dipper are night sky symbols that led the slaves to the Northern states and Canada, where they could live in freedom.
According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Astonomy Department, "The Big Dipper was also a very important part of the Underground Railroad which helped slaves escape from the South before the Civil War. There were songs spread among the slave population which included references to the 'Drinking Gourd.' The songs said to follow it to get to a better life. This veiled message for the slaves to flee northward was passed along in the form of songs since a large fraction of the slave population was illiterate."
The Little Dipper
The Little Dipper has Polaris at the tip of the handle. It is also called Little Bear, but it looks more like a dipper than a bear.
The Big Dipper, Little Dipper, and Polaris.
Sophia and Olivia each did a nature journal entry about Polaris, the Big Dipper, and the Little Dipper.
Olivia's journal entry.
Sophia's journal entry.