Saturday, April 7, 2012

Solar System Mobile Project

All the materials we used for the entire project are pictured here.

Materials: any circular shapes to make planets, paint, glitter, string, sticks, paper
Well all right, moms and dads! Getting antsy out there? Need a little variety to spice up your activities with the wee ones? Here's a fun project we did over the course of a week that turned out to be an incredible learning experience that combined reading, research, art, math, balance, science, problem solving and team work.

I had found an idea that I liked in Parents Magazine about making a bird mobile out of ping pong balls, paper, paint and branches from a tree. Originally, I had intended to make this with my (then) 2 1/2 year old daughter to place in her new sister's room, but we already had a mobile for the baby. But this idea was too good to pass up, and my now 3 year old has taken a sudden interest in outer space. I thought we could tweak the bird mobile idea to create our own moving solar system instead!

We started out by reading books about our solar system so that my daughter felt connected to the topic. After we had built a good base of knowledge, we hit our local dollar store where we found a pack of foam balls in varied sizes that was perfect for the planets.
Here are all the planets after paint, glitter and being threaded.
We needed a larger object to represent the sun, so for that we used a light-weight ball that we found around the house. Next we gathered art supplies from home to decorate the foam planets. We found enlarged images of each planet, and then, using Crayola watercolor paint, we attempted to make each foam ball look like our photographs.

After the paint dried, we used Crayola Glitter Glue to make swirls on the planets for intrigue and effect. We also cut a ring out of paper, colored it with crayons and wove thread around it to make Saturn's rings.

Using a thick, long needle, we tied thread through each planet so that we could attach them to the mobile. For the mobile arms, we simply took a nature walk and collected 3 branches we thought would work well with our project.

View from below before we finalized knots
Once we had all our materials prepared, we began the tricky part, putting it all together.

Here's where the team work comes into play.

We made a game out of this by laying out our planets, on the floor, the way we were going to hang them, so our daughter had to review the order of the planets in relation to the sun.
Close up of how we threaded the rings for Saturn
Next we tied our sticks into an asterisk shape with ribbon and experimented with loosely tying them onto the branches so that we could determine the appropriate weight to balance them.

Once we found the perfect balance, we had our daughter lay on the floor so that she could look up and determine if the planets were the appropriate distance from the sun. And there you have it... Solar System Mobile!

In hindsight, adding glow-in-the-dark paint would be a fun addition to this project. Perhaps we'll add some glow-in-the-dark star stickers to the branches next. Maybe we can convince our daughter to earn stars for her branches as rewards for good behavior. Hmmmm...I like THAT!
Last pic before we permanently knotted strings, cut off excess thread and moved to my daughter's room.
This was an incredibly fun project and a remarkable learning experience for the whole family.

I recommend taking your time with this and doing it over the course of a week or two so that your entire family can participate and learn/talk about the solar system throughout the duration of the project.

This experience was just infinitely more fulfilling than buying something pre-made and we're looking forward to gazing up at our homemade solar system for many years to come. It's sure to make us appreciate what we can accomplish for ourselves and ponder endless possibilities...out there.

XOXO From My Hearth to Yours

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