This week for our Preschool STEM Story Time we investigated the solar system.
Because this is story time, I began and ended by reading books about space. First I read Nerdy Babies: Space by Emmy Kastner (to be reviewed here for Nonfiction Monday).
This was at just the right level, although they were put off by the “Nerdy Baby” branding.
At the end I read If You Were the Moon by Laura Purdie Salas and illustrated by Jaime Kim
I love, love this particular title because it is so creative, but I hadn’t read it with children before. Surprisingly, I had one boy who didn’t want to buy into the moon doing all those things — such as helping keep the Earth from wobbling. It was, however, an opportunity to encourage him to develop questions, which gives him a framework to find answers later on. We tend remember concepts best when we figure out the answers ourselves and some questions can take years or even decades to answer.
(Visit Laurie Purdie Salas’s website for downloadable teaching guides — long and short versions — and other goodies.)
STEM Activity Station 1. Contact paper solar system.
Remember the shape-sorting frames made out of clear contact paper from the math story time? It worked well to make a solar system story board to accompany the book.
Make a frame out of heavy paper about 36 inches long and ten inches wide. Back it with clear contact paper, with the sticky side against the frame.
Find a paper model of the solar system to print out. I used one from the Paxi Fun Book available from the European Space Agency. Glue the paper to card stock and cut out. Now the children can press the planets to the contact paper. They will stick, but can be removed and placed again and again.
if you have a bigger budget, there are commercially-available magnet solar system pieces that will stick to a white board.
Allow the children to figure out the identity of the different planets and what order they go in.
STEM Activity Station 2. Moon craters
- Detailed image of the moon with craters visible
- Flour (ask for broken bags at the grocery store)
- Powdered cocoa, buckwheat flour, or cornmeal
- Unbreakable pan, such as cake pan
- Marbles and/or rocks
- Candy sprinkles (totally optional)
- Plastic bin, newspaper or garbage bags to catch flour (optional)
Find a level surface, preferably outside or indoors where a bit of flour won’t cause a mess. Fill a large pan halfway with flour. If you want, you can also add a thin layer of candy sprinkles to represent other minerals present under the surface. Finally, gently add a thin layer of cocoa powder, buckwheat flour, or cornmeal for contrast. If indoors, place the pan into a bigger bin, or onto newspaper or garbage bags.
Have your kids drop various round objects into the flour. The results should be some interesting craters and splash patterns, which are the patterns of debris shot out of the crater with impact.
STEM Activity Station 3: Rotation of planets
- Table of different planet rotation times (optional)
- Tops to spin
- Computer to show planet rotations (optional)
I did show a video of planet rotation. Wow, I wasn’t expecting how quickly the preschoolers gravitated to the open laptop. The younger generations have an affinity for things electronic, so be prepared if you decide to use it.
STEM Activity Station 4: Phases of the Moon
Phases of the Moon is a favorite preschool activity. I chose to use the one suggested in the book The Moon Seems to Change (Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2) by Franklyn M. Branley and illustrated by Barbara & Ed Emberley.
This explanation of the phases of the moon incorporates a demonstration using an orange on a stick and a flashlight right in the text. I used a Styrofoam ball on a pencil.
- The Moon Seems to Change book
- Images of phases of the moon, preferably for the current calendar month (optional because they are in the book)
- Orange or Styrofoam ball
- Stick or pencil
Notes: The phases of the moon station required more time and attention than given. Maybe should use a simpler activity next time or plan on manning this station full time to guide the participants.
STEM Activity Station 5: Straw rockets
How do we study space? Rockets are an important part of space exploration. Build and launch a simple straw rocket.
There are many straw rocket instructions on the internet. I made the soda-straw rockets from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Older children could make them on their own.
- Paper rockets
- Soda straws (make sure they get thrown out and don’t get used by multiple kids)
- Nerf darts (optional, but easy)
As the instructions read, place the drinking straw into the open end of the rocket or Nerf dart and blow.
See instructions for making a straw rocket using a disposable pipette at Wrapped in Foil.
Notes: This station was very popular. Consider adding stomp rockets.
Also supplied coloring sheets of planets to color (just one source).
Deb Pilutti has a super fun solar system model to make.
Visit our Pinterest Board for more solar system activity ideas.
Want to find more books to read? We have growing lists of children’s books at Science Books for Kids:
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