One of my five-year-old’s favorite activities is drawing with sidewalk chalk. We’ve been talking about space and the solar system recently (thanks, Cosmos!) and we decided to create our own solar system on the sidewalk. While it’s fun just to draw the eight planets, you and your preschooler can estimate the scaled distances of the planets to the sun with measurements provided by NASA. This science activity not only gets you outside on a sunny day, but gives your little learner an idea of just how big our solar system is.
If this is your first time talking about the solar system with your preschooler or kindergartner, you may want to start with a book. I highly recommend First Space Encyclopedia, which is packed with photos and information about the sun, planets, and stars.
Then grab your chalk and head outside! Find a nice stretch of sidewalk in your neighborhood, at least 100 feet if you’re going to include planetoid Pluto. (Poor Pluto.) If you’re stopping at just the eight planets of the solar system, you’ll need about 75 feet.
Don’t forget to take the measurements with you. Here’s the 100 foot (30 meter) to Pluto model provided by NASA:
- Mercury – 11″
- Venus – 1′ 10″
- Earth – 2′ 6″
- Mars – 3′ 10″
- Jupiter – 13′ 2″
- Saturn – 24′ 2″
- Uranus – 48′ 7″
- Neptune – 76′ 2″
Your preschooler can get to work drawing each planet after you estimate the scaled distance from the sun. While you can certainly send older kids out to do this activity on their own with a tape measure to get it just right, my five-year-old and I simply counted the steps for each planet to estimate the distance.
Next we talked about what each planet looks like, how big it is, how hot or cold it might be, and other distinguishing features. It’s not feasible to draw the planets to scale, but discussing the comparative size of planets can be helpful for your little astronomer, too.
And don’t worry if your kid doesn’t get something exactly right when drawing a planet—it’s just another chance to talk about the size or appearance of the planets or work on writing those letters.
By the time we got to Neptune, my daughter was starting to get an idea of how big the solar system is, and she got excited to learn more about the rest of the universe. “We gotta draw all of outer space!” she yelled.