A stroll through the solar system

by threegirlpileup

Last Friday, our homeschool group met to do this cool activity modeling the solar system.  Bascially, you collect items that are scale models of the planets–a soccer ball for the sun, a peppercorn for Earth, a walnut for Jupiter–and space them out to scale.  Turns out that with an eight inch ball for the sun, Pluto should be about 1/2 a mile away!

For convenience, I taped each object to a large index card, and Maggie and I stapled them to long garden stakes.

Maggie and I both enjoyed working on the stakes the night before.  Maggie did all the writing, and I took care of the stapling.


We started at one corner of my yard, and followed a path along the creek that borders our property.  We started with the close planets: Mercury, Venus, and Earth, which were each 10 or fewer paces apart.


But bewteen Mars and Jupiter?  A whopping 95 paces.  And then the numbers got really big, often more than 200 paces.


By the time we made it to Uranus, the kids were getting a little antsy, so we sent them running ahead to guess where the next stake would be planted.   Once we hit Pluto, we headed back, collecting the planets as we went.  Maggie enjoyed holding the map/clipboard and awarding the title of “King” or “Queen” to the person who took the sign.


Maggie does love a clipboard.

It was the simplicity of this activity, I think, that really made it work.  By painting broad brushstrokes, it illustrated some fundamental concepts so clearly, and gave all of us a real sense of the scale of the planets and their spacing.  The next time these kids are learning about the planets, I think a lot of them will remember the soccer ball and the peppercorn, and how far we walked between those outer planets.

And the weather was glorious!  In spite of a rather dreary forecast, the warm North Carolina sun came out.  Suddenly the 50-degree day turned into a perfect day for playing outside–which we did.  On the way back to Jupiter, we all took a detour and headed to a nearby playground, where the kids played and played and played.  It was one of those perfect days when I am so grateful for homeschooling and the friends we do it with.   The kids disappeared into the play structures, which gave us moms time to chat.  And even chuckle a little about the joke of the day, which the kids didn’t seem to get:

How far is it to Uranus??