Apr 6, 2009

Aluminium foil solar system

My kids and a few of their freinds got to go to a short community science class for preschoolers a little while ago. Part of the class was learning a little about the the solar system. My older daughter was really intrigued. She also loves to look at the pictures in one of my old uni books "the dynamic universe", so while the ideas were fresh in their minds I thought we'd use it to add more clutter, ahem, I mean decoration to our walls.
Unfortunately I didn't have custody of the camera the afternoon that we made the planets, so I can't show you any pics of us doing that. It was pretty straightforward though. I just cut a load of circles out of card and covered them in aluminium foil. I drew a few features on some of the planets, like land on the earth and the red eye on Jupiter, then the kids picked a planet and got colouring with sharpies. While they were colouring we talked about the solar system. It was cute that each kid kind of felt ownership over the planet they coloured. The five year old was very pleased that he got Jupiter, because it was the 5th planet and it was also the biggest, just like him! We also did a section of the sun.

The relative sizes are not accurate unfortunately, because I wanted to the kids to be able to handle all the planets but not have to have something loony like a Jupiter that touched the ceiling. You can tell what order the sizes go in, but really it was all down to what sized plates I happened to have, because I couldn't find a compass. It would be fun to do a more accurate version with older kids to get the scale concept across and maybe cover the various satalites the planets have too. Here are some great pictures to show you what I mean about the relative sizes. Warning, this link will make you feel very small indeed!

The next day when everyone was over again, we pinned up some black material and the kids stuck on the planets in order with double sided tape and we set about labelling them. I cut out a load of irregular white shapes and they glued on the asteroid belt. They stuck on a load of stars on the background too and we talked about how they were really huge and lots of them were bigger than the sun, but they looked tiny because they were so far away.

It seems that in the class they went to the teacher must have got a load of older sticker sets cheap, because they were all asking "where is pluto?", so I went and found a small circle sticker and we labelled wee Pluto as a dwarf planet to keep the peace. Everyone thought the term "Gas Giants" was hilarious.

The stickers we used to label everything started to peel off really quickly, so I got the four and five year olds to write new planet labels and we taped those on with packing tape instead.
I love how the aluminium foil texture and reflectiveness makes the planets look almost luminous. Sorry the photos are all from a strange angle, it's just it's up in our narrow corridoor!


Karin said...

wow, another absolutely fantastic activity. I'm with you -- the texture and reflection on all those planets are fantastic!!! and I did not realize that colored sharpies worked so well on foil. yet another reason to finally purchase one of those mega colored sharpie packs i've been eyeing for eons...

LiEr said...

Love, love, love this project. I should be in bed now but I had to comment now or it will never happen once the kids are awake. Pluto is tricky and you are a good peacemaker. The asteroid belt! Oh, I want to make all the stuff you do. Genius, too, the texture of the foil - it turned out looking all rocky and earthy (forgive the pun) and 3D. I am so glad to be able to get my regular Science fix just by coming to visit you!

Laurel Kornfeld said...

Kudos to you for adding Pluto to the display. Now, ask the teacher to add it to the list of planets and to please not blindly accept the controversial demotion, done by only four percent of the IAU, most of whom are not planetary scientists, and whose decision was rejected by hundreds of professional astronomers led by Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto. For more on why Pluto is a planet, please visit my Pluto blog at http://laurele.livejournal.com

Valerie @ Inner Child Fun said...

I did something similar to this for my daughter's outer space themed birthday party. We used a roll of the black stuff you lay down in the garden to keep out weeds. It was cheap and it worked really well!