There is possibly nothing more inspiring to the imagination than outer space. I remember looking up at the stars as child (and sometimes as an adult) and losing myself and my troubles in the twinkling of stars. I was excited to start learning about space with my littles, and it turns out they were just as excited as I was.
I intended to start this unit, my very first “official” unit, in a logical manner, but the kids had other ideas. A few days before I planned to start, the kids caught me printing and laminating pictures of the planets, and there was no stopping them. They dove right into playing with the planets and asking tons of questions, good questions that I didn’t always have the answer to.
Despite my plans being thrown to the wind before we even started, I like the way this unit turned out. I had a list of things I wanted Drake to know by the end of the unit, which was a little silly of me. How did I expect to control what they learned?
What ended up happening was much better. They learned a TON. By the end of the unit, they knew the names of the planets, their order, and the names of many dwarf planets (a topic they were especially interested in). They knew that the planets circled the sun, and the moon circled the earth. They picked up space words and knew their meaning at a basic level: asteroids, comets, nebulas, astronaut, telescope, International Space Station, and the Kuiper Belt. Most importantly to me, my boys were inspired by the knowledge the acquired about space to ask questions and to play imaginatively.
These six books were our main sources of information during our studies of space. Well, these books and a good amount of Googling. The kids enjoyed all of these books, and we read them all many times.
The Magic School Bus Lost in the Solar System is a favorite. My kids love the Magic School Bus, which is pretty normal. I've never heard of a kid who didn't like them. This books is full of information. You can pick and choose how much to share because some of it is put as a side note. I appreciate this feature for my preschoolers.
The Moon Book is all about the moon. Honestly, after seeing the illustrations, I didn't think my kids would like it, but they did. It is also FULL of information, but gives opportunities to skip some if you think you child is getting overwhelmed by too much at once.
I bought the The Solar System and Beyond on clearance at Barnes and Noble a while ago. I didn't read this to the kids too many times, but it offered a great way for the kids to process information themselves. They would "read" it and talk about what they'd learned (whether it was relevant to the pictures or not)
All My Friends Are Planets was probably the boys favorite book we used. We easily read it 10 times during our unit, and I imagine we will read it frequently moving forward. It explained why Pluto is not considered a planet and why it isn't so bad. It really got the boys interested in dwarf planets.
Usborne's My Very First Space Book was incredibly helpful in explaining how humans interact with space. Topics like how astronauts spend their days and the Hubble Space Telescope are introduced in ways preschoolers can understand.
Born with a Bang is a bit of an odd read, especially to young children. It is written from the point of view of the universe and explains a lot of what happened during the Big Bang. It was useful, and the kids enjoyed, but a lot of it was over their head. I'm happy I bought it for future use.
Activities and Resources
The Solar System Bulletin Board: (Okay, not a real bulletin board, but the wall above our couch serves as a bulletin board of sorts.) I printed pictures of the planets, laminated them, and stuck them on the wall. If I did this again, I would like to make the planets to scale (or at least close).
Asteroid Belt: We used chalk and black construction paper to make asteroids. This was a quick activity that allowed us to discuss what asteroids were. After we finished, I hung them between Mars and Jupiter on our “bulletin board.”
Kuiper Belt: The Kuiper Belt is made up of chunks of ice and comets. We balled up some foil for the ice chunks and used glitter on black construction paper for comets. While we did this, I made sure to explain what a comet it was and what the tail was.
Paint the moon: Using black construction paper and textured paint (white paint + flour), we painted the moon. Drake figured out that spinning the brush made craters, which saved me trying to figure it out myself. Once again, I used this project to talk about the moon while they worked.
Cardboard Tube Telescope: I cut a paper towel tube in half and let the boys paint it with tempera paint. They used these for pretend play until they got destroyed (keeping it real guys).
Paint Space: Using a large piece of cardboard, roller brushes, and some fun novelty paint brushes, we painted space. The kids didn’t quite grasp the concept of painting the stars, but they did make some cool looking art. Drake was more interested in actually making space than Devin. If I did this again, I would let the kids do one each, and I would revisit it periodically throughout the unit to add in anything we’ve talked about.
Solar System Model: I purchased a paint your own model of the solar system, and I am so happy I did. It helped the kids understand and see that the planets orbit the sun. These models aren’t meant for kids the age of my kids though and it is sadly, no longer with us. It did survive about 10 days, and Drake treated it with care.
Watercolor Nebulas: After showing them some pictures, we used liquid watercolor paint, pipettes, and water color paper to paint nebulas. This is messy, very messy, but the kids loved it. Drake especially loved experimenting with the paint and blowing it across the page. I wish I’d put a tray under him because his page was soaked. While they painted, I talked about what a nebula was in basic terms.
Construction Paper Rocket Ship: I cut out some shapes that seemed rocket ship like, and encouraged the boys to make rocket ships with them. Devin took to it immediately, but Drake decided to make a Mario level instead. No problem.
Flash cards: This set of flashcards are awesome. They are very sturdy, come in a nice box, and the images are lovely. The only problem is they don’t have any explanations on them (like what a butterfly nebula is) so you might want to be prepared for those questions your kids will ask you. I let this kids explore these and sometimes would pull them out and see what they could recognize.
Pretend Play: This was a big one! We used a cardboard rocket ship that a family member gifted the kids for Christmas, some costumes that I’d gotten clearance after Halloween, and this felt set from Target for some of the pretend play, but to say that was all the pretend play that happened would be an understatement. I love seeing them pretend to get hit with asteroids, fly to Pluto, and spin around each other pretending to be planets. It was clear they were using play to process the things we were learning about, and it was just beautiful.
This unit was so much fun. We enjoyed it so much that it inspired me to switch to a project based homeschool! If you have any awesome space activities or resources, please share in the comments section! I’d love to hear about them and use them the next time we study space.
Welcome to the family!
We are a laid back, fun, family of four living on a dime in 700 square feet. Life might not be perfect, but every moment of every day, it is beautiful.