The planets, solar system, and the universe are a pretty big concept to explain to toddlers and it can be difficult for them to comprehend. But finding fun ways to learn about the planets from an early age can really inspire their imagination, and spark an interest in space for years to come.
Introducing the planets to toddlers
Before you get started it’s worth brushing up on your own solar system knowledge — it’s really important to share the correct information with toddlers from the very start.
Earth is part of a solar system, called the Milky Way, with seven other planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. These planets are in orbit around the Sun, which is a star. There are also dwarf planets (such as Pluto), moons, comets, and asteroids in the Milky Way solar system.
Our solar system is one of approximately 30 billion solar systems within the Milkyway, and then billions more other galaxies. These kinds of numbers can be hard for toddlers to understand, so begin by focusing on the 8 planets in our solar system and the sun.
Show them the planets
The best way to start talking about space and the planets to toddlers is to show them the moon and stars in the sky at night. Take them outside on a clear night and point out the stars, and talk about how far away they are from Earth.
There are many websites such as EarthSky, which give daily information about what planets are visible. For a better look buy a telescope and look at the sky from an upstairs window. Ask the kids to find different stars, such as the brightest or the smallest.
If you’re in the city or can’t get a good view of the night sky, you could also take your toddler to a planetarium. While they probably won’t understand the whole concept just yet, it’s a good visual and interactive way to introduce them to the idea of space and planets. There are also planetarium kits you can buy that will project constellations on to your ceiling and show kids how the planets and stars move across the sky at night.
Create a solar system
With a bit of simple crafting, you can make your own planets. You could cut out and sew together felt circles and stuff them to create soft planets — these can be used to teach your toddler the names for each planet and the order that they’re in.
Alternatively, grab some large pieces of card and some paints – ask your kids to paint each sheet in the right color for the different planets. You can then cut them out to the right proportions and either hang them from the ceiling or attach them to a wall in the correct order. Toddlers can add in stars and attach name labels to the planets.
Getting involved with making will help them to remember the different planets, their sizes, and names. And try making the planets to scale — Jupiter is so big you could fit all the other planets in the Milky Way inside of it — these are important concepts for kids to understand.
If you’re not feeling too crafty you could try a kids subscription box such as the SagoMini Box, which includes a Space Explorer pack that comes with everything ready for make-and-play activities. Boxes like these teach them about the planets through play, and also help with other skills such as problem-solving.
You could also talk about the differences between the planets in our solar system; from their rings and moons to the temperature and surfaces of the planets. Then get them thinking about making their own planet — for example, you could ask them to describe what they would have on their planet, or use Play-Doh to create their own planet
Build a rocket ship
Space travel is a pretty cool idea, especially for kids. Give your toddler the opportunity to build their own rocket ship using cardboard toilet rolls, paper, paints, glue and their imagination. They can choose the design of their ship, or you can find some templates online for inspiration, and they can pick the colors they want to paint it.
While they’re building the ship you can tell them about why rocket ships are needed, how far away the planets are, and how long it would take to get there. This will help kids to understand the concept of the solar system and its size. You can then try building a catapult and launching their finished rocket ships to see how far they can travel.
Alternatively, there are lots of rocket ship kits available that provide a fun way for toddlers to learn about space travel and the planets such as the Hape Four-Stage Rocket Ship.
Sing about the planets
Nursery rhymes are always a great way for toddlers to learn. When children learn information associated with a specific tune they remember it a lot quicker. And there are several children’s songs about the planets — try showing your kids this video and teach them the Planets Song to introduce them to the different planets.
Using a combination of crafts, models, toys, and visual experiences you can introduce the planets to toddlers in a really fun and engaging way that will help them to get to grips with some pretty big concepts.