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  • Writer's pictureAmy Wung Tsao

The Solar System

Updated: Jan 20

A Note from Amy


Happy New Year, friends! Over school break, my middle kid and I finally made his spaghetti bridge. You guys, it took so much hot glue! But my middle kid happily got to push his toy trucks across his pasta bridge. Then my 4 year

old got a hold of it, so now it looks like this. Not very Pinterest worthy, but we all got a fun lesson in both construction and de-construction!


 

“Earth is a small town with many neighborhoods in a very big universe.”

― Astronaut Ron Garan


Ocean clouds seen from space
Credit: Nasa, Unsplash

I’m so excited to spend the next few months nerding out (just a little) about space! Check out my recommended resources below! (Just a reminder - I am never paid to mention any of these resources; there are no affiliate links.)

 

Podcast


Wow in the World

The words “TWO WHATS?! AND A WOW!” in colorful block lettering, and smiling hosts Guy Raz and Mindy Thomas.

My 6 and 8 year olds don’t enjoy that many podcasts, but they love the humor and interactive game show format of Two Whats and a Wow. In this episode, you’ll hear three crazy sounding statements about planets and have to guess which of the three is actually true. Short (especially if you skip the ads), sweet, and fun!







 

Videos


Mystery Doug (YouTube)

This quickie 5 minute video, targeted for elementary age students, packs in a lot of information about the other planets in our solar system, and how the Goldilocks Zone explains why we have liquid water on Earth.


Mystery Doug (YouTube)

I definitely did not know the answer to this question before I watched this 6 minute video with my kids!


SciShow Kids

Colors are a great way to draw young kids into the science of stars! In just 3 minutes, Mr. Brown teaches Sam the Bat why the stars are different colors and which color is the hottest.


 

Books


By Adam Rex, illustrated by Laurie Keller

Cover image featuring a cartoon Pluto saying “Ooh, someone’s going to call? Are they calling to invite me to a party? I LOVE parties!” while much larger planets look down on Pluto, concerned.

Poor Pluto, he just got the call that humans aren’t calling him a planet anymore. So he takes the reader on a trip to meet all the “real” planets in the solar system. Luckily, the Sun knows just how to cheer him up. This author/illustrator team is so funny together! My kids definitely asked us to read this one multiple times.


By Robert E. Wells

Cover image, featuring an illustrated blue whale looking up at a starry moon-lit sky.

This brilliant book makes sense of the impossibly big. For example, one page shows a bag filled with 100 Earths, looking tiny next to the Sun. The illustration style makes this accessible to preschoolers, but older kids (and adults like me!) will get a lot out of this book too.


By Jason Chin

Page spread comparing the size of common tree species to the Eiffel Tower and famous skyscrapers.

This book actually covers similar themes of comparing relative sizes, all the way up to the size of the universe. But I had to include this book too because of the simply gorgeous illustrations (Jason Chin won a Caldecott Award for Watercress, which I also highly recommend) and because there is even more in-depth science here for the older elementary age kids.


By Alec Carvlin, illustrated by Brian Biggs

Cartoony illustration of a girl wearing a chef's hat and oven mitts, in front of an oven exploding with splashes of color.

This book is full of surprises - some hilarious baking scenes, some really good science about the Big Bang, and a really sweet ending about how the universe belongs to all of us.


By Joyce Lapin, illustrated by Simona Ceccarelli

Cover image featuring realistic illustrations of New Horizons smiling as she swoops past planets.

Travel along with NASA’s spacecraft New Horizons as it flies to Pluto and beyond! My kids were totally cheering on New Horizons, while I was falling in love with Pluto all over again. And you can even keep checking in on New Horizon’s progress on its Twitter feed!


 

Activities


SkyView AR (Augmented Reality) App

Free version available for Android or iOS

Paid version available for Android or iOS

Screenshot of the Skyview app displaying the Scorpius constellation and text “Scorpius is a large constellation located in the southern hemisphere near the center of the Milky Way.”

This absolutely gorgeous app allows you to point your smartphone anywhere, and see what is out in space in that direction. You can find the International Space Station and satellites along with all the stars and planets. Be aware - the free version does sell your location data, but the paid version is completely private and only costs $2-3.


NASA has a wealth of fun, educational material for kids. There are printable coloring pages for all 8 planets of our solar system. You can even color Jupiter along with a video of NASA scientist Steve Levin, as he talks through Jupiter’s colors and other interesting factoids. There’s also a coloring page for the DSN antenna that communicates with spacecraft. You can learn about the antenna and color along with DSN engineer Amy Smith and her two sons in this video.


from Inspiration Laboratories

Different sized balls representing planets lined up on a carpet, with a yellow balloon representing the Sun and a line of pom poms representing the asteroid belt.

When the idea of planets and space gets too abstract for the younger kids, I love this idea of using balls and balloons to make your own solar system on your living room floor. And then really have some fun (and burn some energy!) throwing “asteroids” (small balls or pom poms) at the bigger planets!

 

Is your head spinning with ideas yet?

Cartoon Earth orbiting around a smiling Sun. Credit: Giphy
Credit: Hallmark Gold Crown, Giphy

Just wait until next month, when we’ll cover rockets, astronauts, and space stations, oh my!


Until then, have fun lighting sparks of curiosity!

Amy Wung Tsao


P.S. Do you have a favorite STEM resource that I haven't featured yet? Please let me know so I can share it with everyone!


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