Now, you’ve made a solar system – let’s get some idea of how vast that solar system is… for this you will need a wide-open space and some skewers. Initially we printed little planets for colouring. (Alternatively you could bring the solar system that you just made, but with a little wind in the air we thought it safer to opt for the smaller representation of each planet!) Attach each planet to a skewer with tape and head to a wide open space (we went to the local sports field). Place your sun in the centre of the field and begin to measure your planets. For accurate measurements of the distances between planets you can look here. We chose to be more approximate in our own measurements, with ‘kids steps’ as our form of measurement, and the furthest being 30 steps from our sun (to allow for shorter counting attention span of the 3yo!) Each time you pace out your planets, place your skewer as a marker. You should end up with a little gathering of planets near your sun, then some so far away that you can barely see them! (Well, 30 large steps away at least!) Before you head out you may like to watch this demonstration that I was delighted to find (after doing ours, but still great to watch!) – he did it on a slightly larger scale but has some great facts about the planets that you might like to include when you are doing it with your young ones. Once all in place have a look at how long it takes to walk around the sun if you were Venus, or perhaps Mars… now how long does it take to you to move around the sun if you were Neptune! (See Neptune (3yo Elka) taking a bit of a shortcut as she orbits the sun (5yo Anica) below) Depending on your young ones you may like to talk about how our Earth year is determined by a rotation around the sun. (We will be looking at weather a little shortly, so we’ll answer some of those seasons questions in the coming week!) – and make sure you bring your planets home again, they will be useful for our upcoming galaxy play-dough!
There are many wonderful ways to represent the solar system but we chose a simple one that will stay with us as a reference point for the rest of the year.
Unless you are a keen stargazer you may want to refresh a few interesting points about the planets before you start. This is a good place to start.
With research book (or iPad) in hand tell your kids the most interesting things you know about the first planet from the sun. Ask them how best to represent these qualities in their planet and get those paints mixing!
Repeat this process for each of the planets as you work your way out from the sun. To re-enforce the idea of colour mixing I encouraged the kids to choose at least 2 colours for each planet. (The delight of kids learning red and yellow forms orange never grows old!)
Depending on your kids you may like to mix up your paining technique to ensure each planet is a unique; we started with brushes, moved onto squish painting (where you put dobs of paint, fold the paper and squish to see what happens) and then ended up making hand prints to decorate the last of our planets.
Once all are dry, cut your planets to scale. I referred to this site, with the diagram below, to get approximate scale, though found that accurate scale was not necessarily practical (I didn’t want to smallest to be the size of a pin head, nor did I want the largest to be the size of an umbrella – we compromised and made them all a little closer in size for practical reasons!)
These planets now decorate our upper walls and we have a small paper rocket (left over from our straw spaceship adventure) that visits a different planet each day, finding facts and reminding us that we are just a tiny part of this huge universe!
Last year my children and I embarked on a culinary adventure around the world, with the vastly ambitious goal to cook food from every country on the planet (that’s almost 200 countries, just incase you were wondering!)
The exercise (still far from complete!) has proved very successful in terms of capturing their imagination, and indeed opening learning across a divers range of fields.
It comes as no surprise that cooking is a wonderful educational tool in itself: It is tactile (pouring, stirring, needing), sensory (taste, smell, sight), draws heavily on numeracy skills (weighing, counting, timing), scientific reactions (dissolving, heating, cooling), and literacy (from recognising the simple word ‘cup’ when measuring, right through to being able to read recipes independently) … Plus you get the satisfaction of creating something that you can eat at the end. This is probably the benefit my own 3 and 5 year olds enjoy most!
When we embarked on our culinary adventure around the world, we didn’t buy a plane ticket – instead we looked at what was in our own cupboard. From making Vietnamese rice paper rolls in the park, to investigating the origins of the pancake. Each county we ‘visited’ on our cooking journey we added a little geography, and a lot of discussion, and play surrounding that county. As a result both of my children have an expanded world view.
The stories we tell about our being (both public and private) are a cornerstone to our developing sense of identity – for an individual child, and indeed for the community as a whole.
After watching a presentation by David Christian (a key mover and shaker in the Big History movement) I am further inspired to incorporate ideas of ‘Big History’ (that is; history understood form a big picture perspective) into play based learning for early childhood.
My own daughter, Elka 3yo, insists that everything before now is ‘last year’ (yes; yesterday is a very long time ago when you are 3!) So with this daily reminder I fully understand the realities of a developing mind struggling to grasp the concept of time passing. Research shows that neurological pathways in Elkas young brain are forming to understand the complex idea of time, but the extensive process of developing that understanding will only be fully accomplished with the experience of time passing.
With this unquestionable evidence noted, even 3yo Elka can tell you (with some genuine understanding) that ‘dinosaurs lived a long time ago, and they’re not alive any more’. This is a concept that has been built upon by the numerous references to dinosaurs around her (from dress ups, toys, and stickers, to book and even all out dinosaur birthday parties). While history is usually reserved for older students, it is not such a giant leap to conclude that other milestones in our ‘big history’ could equally be as engaging subjects for play based learning in these early years!
From imagining the world of ancient civilisations to looking at how our landscape was formed (volcanic eruptions and a century of erosion is as simple as sand play with some added baking soda and vinegar!)
While I am yet to experiment on my darling offspring, I believe that her being able to understand a vague order of chronology (ie dinosaurs before kingdoms, pyramids before Nan and Pop etc) is well with in her abilities and would be aided by a general time line in her environment that we can refer to when we make new discoveries.
This sense of belonging (and owning a place in time as well as physical space) is something that will enhance all aspects of the growth: from empathy and understanding, to exploration and a desire to invent the next thing to change the course of history.
Now, on the topic of history: the Yoyo is believed to be the second oldest toy in human history. (Without google) do you know what the oldest is? (Note your answers in the comments below, future post will show how we made the oldest toy in history.)