Making some 'planets'

The Solar System doesn't really lend itself to practical science experiments suitable for a toddler.  However, he is very keen on all things space-related at the moment, and whilst pretending the bath was a space rocket and he and his brother were astronauts on their way to the moon, I thought of an activity we could do which would at least let us talk about the solar system.

Despite a general aversion to all things crafty (which is unfortunate, as I am quite a fan of craft myself), the small boy is keen on marbling.  He seems to like the way it floats on the surface of the water like oil and the patterns you can create by blowing or stirring.

Adding marbling ink to water

I thought we could create some 'planets' for his bedroom wall, which vaguely resembled the real thing, using our marbling inks.  I cut out some white cardboard circles of various sizes; it's far from a scale model because the Sun should be over 100 times the diameter of the Earth, but this wasn't going to work on his wall as the planets would have been too small to see.  Instead, I made the Sun the biggest, and then the planets in order of size.  One day I'll explain the relative sizes, but the aim of this activity was to have some fun and let us talk a little about the planets and the Sun, so I overlooked scientific accuracy here!

Marbled Sun and planets laid out to dry

We had a lot of fun with the marbling inks, combining colours, blowing the ink around the surface and watching the patterns swirl around then choosing our moment to drop each 'planet' on to capture the pattern.  We made a nice red Mars, an orange Jupiter and a blue and green Earth that doesn't quite have the shape of the continents correct!

Whilst we marbled, we talked about the planets and their distances from the Sun.  He told me that the Sun was a star, and I explained that it gave us light and heat, and that the planets nearest the Sun were therefore the hottest.  We saw that Mercury was the smallest, and that Earth was smaller than Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

We left the planets to dry and then I glued the rings on Saturn and Uranus.  Later we stuck the planets up on his bedroom wall together, and had another nice discussion about them.  We talked about how they go around the Sun, but put them in a line to show their ordering in distance from the Sun (again, far from to scale!).  He remembered which most of them were meant to be from choosing their colours earlier, and we talked about how Mars is relatively near to Earth compared to some of the other planets.  He told me about how Curiosity the rover went to Mars, which I randomly showed him a simulation of on a NASA YouTube video a couple of months ago when I was running out of ideas for things to do on a rainy day, and he's been keen on ever since!  He's now quite proud of 'his planets' and showed them to his brother (who was far keener on attempting to eat a pair of his socks...).

The finished solar system on the wall

This was quite a fun activity which gave some nice talking points about our solar system, even if it is a long way off a scale model and therefore pretty unscientific.