Finding fun and engaging ways to learn about the stars, planets, and space can inspire a life-long interest in kids. Space has endless possibilities for kids to learn about and explore — from different planets, stars, and moons within our solar system, to space travel and the hundreds of other solar systems in our galaxy.
These are a few ways in which parents can get started and evoke curiosity and excitement in children about space:
The best way to spark children’s interest in space is by taking them outside at night for some stargazing. On a clear night you can take your kids out and talk to them about the moon, the stars, and the planets you can see. Seeing them with their own eyes will inspire their imagination and curiosity.
There are lots of websites and apps that can tell you what exactly you’re looking at in the sky. For example, SkyView is a free app that can provide an augmented reality of what‘s up in the sky, helping you and your children to identify stars, planets, and constellations. They’ll also tell you more information about what you’re looking at and how it came to be there.
If you’re struggling to get a good, clear sky then planetariums are a great backup. It will provide a lot of information about space and it’s an engaging and interactive way to evoke your kids’ curiosity. You can also buy a planetarium kit to project the night sky onto your ceiling at home and demonstrate how the stars move across the sky at night.
The idea that the Earth is constantly rotating on its own axis, as well as revolving around the sun, is a pretty hard concept to grasp. You can demonstrate to kids how the Earth moves throughout the day by mapping out shadows.
Take a stick or a pen and stick it upright to a paper plate using playdough, and then get them to mark the shadow once an hour throughout the day. This will reinforce what children have learned about the Earth rotating and give them an idea of just how quickly the earth is turning.
Get your kids thinking about space travel by designing and building a rocket ship. You can show them examples of rocket ships, and talk about what materials a real rocket ship would be made of and the design features that ensure it reaches space.
Make the rocket ship out of a rolled-up piece of card or an empty plastic bottle, and let your children paint and decorate it as they want. And while they’re building it, talk to your kids about how far away the planets and stars are and how long it would take to get there.
If crafting isn’t your thing, then a kids activity box is a good alternative. These boxes are delivered with everything you need for an engaging make-and-play activity — the Sago Mini Box, for example, has a space explorer pack, which is a great way to introduce children to the solar system through structured play.
Another fun way to get your kids thinking about space is to build your own solar system. Looking at the whole of the solar system can get them excited about just how vast space is, and how much there is to be explored.
There are lots of possibilities for how you can make your own solar system. You could use felt fabric, cut out circles, sew them together, and stuff them for soft planets that younger kids can play with.
Or you can create the planets using Play-Doh, styrofoam, or even ask your children to find different round household objects like tennis balls or fruit. Try to make them to the right proportions — for example, Mercury is twenty times smaller than Earth — and colors so that kids start to learn about the different planets.
Once you’ve made your planets string them up from the ceiling or from a bamboo cane — don’t forget to put them in the right order (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune). You can then get them to add in the Sun, other stars and moons, and turn it into a continuous project.
For a more accurate representation of the solar system, the AstroReality Solar System to Scale is a precise model that’s 3D printed to demonstrate each planet’s form and colors.
Getting the kids involved with making a solar system will inspire them to learn about the different features of each planet.
One of the things that will really grab kids’ interest in space is all the unknowns. While you can teach them about stars and planets, there’s still a lot out there that we don’t know about and haven’t discovered.
So why not get them to invent their own planet? Show them pictures or models of the planets that exist in our solar system, and talk about the differences from their moons and rings to the temperature and surfaces of the planet.
You can then ask them to come up with ideas for their own planet — what will it look like, is there any life, what is the surface like, what weather does the planet have? They can just describe it to you or they can bring it to life by drawing, painting, or building their planet.
These are just a few of the ways that parents can inspire children’s’ curiosity and excitement about space.