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solar-system-activitiesThis 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

Gather:

  • 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

Gather:

  • Table of different planet rotation times (optional)
  • Tops to spin
  • Computer to show planet rotations (optional)

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.

This was a popular station.

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.

Gather:

  • 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)
  • Flashlight
  • 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.

 

More Ideas:

Also supplied coloring sheets of planets to color (just one source).

Deb Pilutti has a super fun solar system model to make.

space activity pinterest board

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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Back with more STEM story time activities.  This week we covered math skills.

Math isn't just numbers and counting. The Erikson Institute Early Math Collaborative has a ton of ideas about sets and sorting, matching, patterns and sequencing, graphing, etc. Many have great book suggestions to get you started and be sure to look for the home activity cards to download.

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Our main book this week was the rollicking fun classic Ten Apples Up On Top! by Theo. LeSieg and illustrated by Roy McKie.

It was well received. I made a story board with contact paper (see instructions below) and cut out foam apples to count.

The red foam circles started out on the tree and we moved them over as we read the book. The yellow ones are because the kids added extra "apples" later.

Although I put a hold on it at the library awhile ago, I didn't get my other choice, The Water Hole by Graeme Base, until after the class.

After I opened it up, I realized why the patron who had it previously didn't want to to give it up. It is gorgeous!

Given that it was initially published in Australia, I thought this reading of the story was appropriate. It is sad when the water hole disappears.

I'm considering buying a copy so I have it on hand next time.

STEM Activity Station 1. Window Shape Sorting

Original idea seen at Happy Tot Shelf.

Gather for adult to make ahead of time:

  • Clear Con-tact paper (found at hardware store)
  • Foam sheets (art/craft supply)
  • Foam shapes - best if don't have sticky back - for kids to sort
  • Ruler
  • Scissors
  • Pencil
  • Round shape to trace around such as layer cake pan (optional)

Make square, rectangle, triangle and circle frames out of foam sheets (I used a layer cake pan as a template for the circle.) Lay the frames on the contact paper (with backing still in place) and trace around them. Cut out the contact paper, peel the waxy backing off, and press the contact paper to the frame. Retain the waxy backing and press onto the sticky side again if you are going to transport the frames (keeps them from sticking together).

Notice the bowl of foam shapes to sort in the chair.

Comments:

The window sorting activity may have been better for younger kids. No one in my group was interested in sorting the shapes. It wasn't a complete bust, however, because after learning the technique I made the story board for the book (see above) and that was a huge hit.

Also, the clear contact paper is an awesome craft ingredient because it can cling to something and then be removed again. Will be using it again.

STEM Activity Station 2. Measuring Volume

Gather:

  • Bin
  • Filling material such as rice or beans. (I used different colored lentils) - check about allergies first.
  • Measuring spoons and cups
  • Geosolid shapes  (optional, but very popular)

These are geosolids (Amazon Affiliate Link).

 

No need for instructions here. Scoop up the materials, fill a shape and then transfer the filling to another shape.

Comments:

This was the most popular station by far. Saw a lot of exploring and creativity.

Next time:  Have pictures of the shapes labelled with the correct name and have the children match them. For example, have a picture of a cone and have them look for the matching cone geosolid shape. They seemed ready to learn the names.

STEM Activity Station 3:  Busy Bugs

The Environmental Education Center supplied this Busy Bug sorting and counting kit. Also comes with pattern cards.

Kids probably could have spent hours with these if they hadn't spent so much time at the measuring bin.

STEM Activity Station 4:  Feed the Squirrels- Counting

 

Gather:

  • Acorns - at least 10
  • Container for acorns (optional)
  • Squirrel counting printable
  • 4 Plastic cups
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Instructions (optional)

Adults:  print out the counting printable. Cut out the squrrels and tape each one to a cup.

Have the children count the number of acorns  indicated on the squirrel's tail into the cup.

STEM Activity Station 5:  Sorting Natural Objects

First read the comments below. Second, ask about food allergies if you decide to use nuts.

Gather:

  • Natural objects such as rocks, different kinds of pine cones, or seeds/nuts
  • Bowls or egg cartons to sort into

Because of the squirrel counting activity, I offered different kinds of nuts in shells.

Comments:

Using nuts in shells was not a good idea because the children wanted to crack them open and see what was inside. When we cracked one open, they wanted to eat the contents. It would probably have been just fine at home, but under preschool conditions it was not ideal.

Conclusion:  I'm bringing rocks to sort next time.

We also sorted colored pom poms by color.


Next time I will offer less sorting activities.

STEM Activity Station 6:  Measuring with Inchworms

(Amazon Affiliate Link)

Cut fuzzy stems (chenille) to different lengths and measure with "inchworms." (Somehow I didn't get a photograph of this station.) The children seemed to like both measuring activities.

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I also offered two types of number/counting puzzles and a sequencing activity.

This is really a quick overview. please let me know if you have any specific questions or suggestions.

 

Visit our Pinterest Board for more preschool math ideas.

I'm doing a series of STEM story times for a local city program and thought I'd share the activities. Most require items that are easy to find around the house.

Because this is story time, we read children's books at the beginning and end of the half hour session. This time I offered a choice of a few books and the children first picked Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle and illustrated by Jill McElmurry.

Little Blue Truck is a work of fiction, but it is quite easy to tie in STEM activities about physics, including an activity to explore friction. HMH Books also has some great Little Blue truck party and activity ideas to download

 

STEM Activity Station 1. Exploring Friction

Gather:

  • Toy cars and trucks
  • Sandpaper
  • Wax paper
  • Inside of a padded envelope or bubble wrap
  • Play dough (home made or commercial)

Encourage the participants to roll the toys over different surfaces. Explain that the play dough is like the mud in the story that the trucks get stuck in. Discuss why the play dough traps the wheels.

Note:  If the play dough dries on the toys, scrub them with a bottle brush. It made clean up easier.

Making home made play dough is so much fun. All that you need is flour, water, oil, salt, and cream of tartar, which is a white powder often found in the spice/baking section of most grocery stores. Kneading the warm dough is an experience not to be missed. Here's one example of how to do it:

 

STEM Activity Station 2. Painting with Cars (also exploring friction)

Gather:

  • Toy cars and trucks
  • Paper plates
  • Paper
  • Washable tempera paint
  • Butcher paper or newspapers to cover work surface (optional)
  • Paint brushes (optional)

This activity would work well outside.

Encourage the children to roll the cars and trucks on the paper to see how much "push" is required to move them. Then roll the wheels in paint and try again. Does it feel different?

Note:  Some children preferred to dab the paint on the wheels with paintbrushes rather than roll the toys through the paint.

STEM Activity Station 3. What Objects Roll Down a Ramp?

Gather:

  • Wood blocks or foam core to form a ramp
  • Objects such as pine cones, blocks, balls, cylinders, etc.

Encourage the participants to test the ability of various objects to roll dow a ramp. Adjust the steepness or length of the ramp and try again.

Thank you to Prekinders for the original idea.

STEM Activity Station 4. Car Race (testing gravity)

Gather:

  • Cardboard or foam core for a ramp
  • Toy cars of different sizes and shapes
  • Low table or chair to prop the ramp on
  • Painters tape

Use the tape to create a "race track" and to fix the ramp to the table. Older children might want to quantify their results using a stopwatch.

Cardboard tube, such as those used for wrapping paper, also  make great ramps.

STEM Activity Station 5. Pull-back Cars (energy)

Gather:

  • Cars that pull back then go when released (inexpensive versions may be found at party stores).

If children are used to pushing a toy car to make it go, then a pull back car seems to break the rules. Explain the spring mechanism inside stores energy when the car is pulled back (potential energy). When released, the stored energy is converted to kinetic energy and the car rolls forward.

The cars could also be used to test acceleration, what happens if you increase the mass (add weights to the car), and also explore friction by testing them on different surfaces (bare floor versus carpet, for example).

(Amazon affiliate link)

Conclusion/wrap up

We ended by reading Freight Train by Donald Crews. It introduces color concepts and also some terminology about trains, for example words like "caboose" and "cattle car." Simple, but with gorgeous artwork.

You can find more children's books about cars and trucks in our growing list at Science Books for Kids.

And check our Pinterest board for many more activity ideas.