I received an e-mail from a wonderful woman who was interested in writing a post for my blog. I've never had a guest blogger before, but when she mentioned her idea for Space activities, I just couldn't resist. Space is one of my most favorite themes. (And her name is also Betsy, so how could I say no?) Betsy is an avid crafter with six years of preschool teaching experience. In her spare time, she teaches horseback riding lessons to children with sensory and learning disabilities. Here are her activities. (NOTE: I did the first one with my class because we had our Space unit last week. The pictures are mine. I used a coloring page of the planets, found here.)
Three Activities to Teach Your Child about the Sun and the Stars
There’s no time like summer to teach your children about the universe they live in. Because the summer provides more comfortable nights, it makes it easier to get everyone outside for family bonding as well as learning. Here are three great activities you can do this summer that will encourage your children to keep learning and to have fun while being able to show off new knowledge to their friends!
Paper Plate Solar System
With this easy activity your child can make a working replica of the solar system! You will need a paper plate, a brass fastener, a hole punch, 8 strips of white or black construction paper, a glue stick, and either handmade or cutouts of the 8 planets (you can include Pluto, if you want).
For size references, the paper plate is going to be our sun, and the planets will rotate around it. If you really want to get creative you can include a couple of large moons around specific planets and use an extra circle with fasteners.
Cut the strips of the construction paper so each is one or two inches longer than the one before it. Glue a planet to each of the strips, making sure Mercury is glued to the shortest strip and Neptune is glued to the longest, then stack them in a pile.
Punch a hole in the center of the paper plate as well as the ends of each strip of paper so that all 8 holes align on all of the strips. Next push the brass fastener through the strips and up through the paper plate leaving space so they can spin and move.
You can customize your sun and planets however you wish, and can repeat this craft for each individual planet to educate your kids about how the solar system works. You can also make a fun game out of it by showing everyone where the planets are at different times of the year and see if each child can create that using their maps.
This exercise will help them to think about what is visible in the sky, how every planet travels and moves and also helps to work with retaining information.
Painted Rock Sundial
Long ago our ancient ancestors were faced with the problem of how to tell time. They used the resources around them to invent the sun dial. Having your child recreate this ancient tool is a great way to teach your children about the movements of the earth.
For this activity you’ll need a small tub of play-dough, paintbrushes, and various colors of eco-friendly paint. You will also need 12 medium-sized rocks that you and your kids can gather from the garden, or a local park. The last piece is a smooth stick about 1 foot long (make sure the stick has already fallen from the tree, we don’t want to damage nature!).
Once you have all your supplies, help your little one paint each stone with the numbers 1-12. At noon, anchor the stick with a ball of play-dough so it doesn’t fall over, and place the stone with the number 12 at the end of the shadow pointing north (this is also a great chance for your little one to learn how to use a compass). Each hour, place the next stone at the end of the shadow, and by the end of the day you will have a great sun dial! This fun exercise can lead to many more exercises.
One could be learning to tell time while on a camping trip. Another could be creating a schedule out of shapes where they put the shape of the shaded in areas starting at noon (a ¼ circle would be 3pm) to schedule your day or even making a game where your child is the stick in the middle and has to guess who is at which hour. You could even use math games with the 12 numbers around your sundial.
Constellation Night Light
There’s no better time to learn about the night sky than during the summer. Bringing this breathless starscape inside at night is easy when you create this great Constellation Night Light out of a used water jug.
To prepare for this craft, you need a battery-operated lantern, an empty water jug with the top cut off, black paint, a paintbrush, a piece of black construction paper, a glue stick, and a hole punch (you can also use a pencil or a stick in place of the hole punch).
Before sunset, have your child paint the sides of the water jug black, leaving the flat end unpainted, and set to dry. Once the sun has set and the stars have come out, have your child get ready for bed, but remember to pack something like a kid’s bathrobe or thermal pajamas. (Since kids’ robes are usually seasonal, you may want to try a store that offers them year-round like www.crazyforbargains.com).
When the stars come out, find different constellations in the night sky and have your child pick their favorite one. Next, use the hole punch to cut out different constellations in the construction paper with random stars mixed in. If you have different size punches, you can even do multiple constellations and starscapes. Now place the cut-out paper on top of the jug with the battery operated lantern inside.
Now it’s time to crawl into bed and let your child fall asleep with the night sky glowing inside the tent or room. You can even read a book about the legends behind the constellations to help them drift off to sleep.
In this day and age it’s so easy to rely on technology instead of connecting with the world around you. Learning about the solar system with your family is a great way to encourage your children to become more aware of their surroundings, learn fun facts and about the tools that Mother Nature has given us to survive without technology. This summer, unplug look up at the sky with your loved ones to create memories and allow your child to learn fun facts about the sky that they will remember forever.