The sun is probably one of the most amazingly useful objects in our solar system. Not only does it provide us with light and warmth, but the energy it gives off sustains all life on Earth. For example, human beings rely on plant life both for food and oxygen. All plants require the sun’s energy to live. Not only is the sun incredible in its utility, but other aspects of the sun are fascinating as well. Did you know that our sun is just an average, ordinary star and that it will die one day? (Don’t worry…not for billions of years.) How about that the sun’s light takes 8 minutes and 19 seconds to reach us? If the sun were to somehow instantaneously disappear, we wouldn’t know for over 8 minutes. Do you have any idea how BIG the sun is relative to the Earth? I didn’t either, which is why we did this activity.
This project uses the free Relative Size of Planets printable provided in a previous post. Combining that printable with Velcro and butcher paper allowed us to make this fun, interactive, hands-on tool for learning not only how big the planets are relative to each other and to the sun but to also start to learn their order from the sun.
Honestly, I knew that Earth was going to be small relative to the sun, but personally, I found this activity to be incredibly humbling. It’s amazing to think about how much activity and life there is on planet Earth for being such a tiny little speck on a cosmic scale.
Recommended Age Range: Preschool, Kindergarten, Elementary, Middle School
Time Required: ~1 hour
Cost: About $12 in used supplies (Most of the cost is the Velcro strip. Admittedly, a roll of butcher paper can be expensive, though you don’t need much. We use ours all the time and it lasts forever, making it a great investment in my opinion.)
- The Relative Sizes of Planets printable from the Relative Sizes of Planets post
- 5 laminating pouches (or contact paper)
- At least 110″/280 cm of butcher paper
- Yellow, red, and/or orange paint. (I used powdered paint.)
- At least 33″/84 cm of yarn or string (color not important)
- 6 ft/1.8 m of sticky back Velcro
Supplies & Tools:
- Tape measure
- Laminator (if using laminating pouches)
- Containers to hold paint
- Paint Brushes
- Tape (I used painters tape so it would peel easily from paper where needed and packing tape to attach our “poster” to the wall.)
- First, print out the Relative Sizes of Planets printable, cut out the pieces, and laminate them. See the Relative Sizes of Planets post for more details.
- Next, measure out a piece of butcher paper that is at least 110 inches (280 cm). I didn’t have enough space to measure all 110″ at once, so I measured 55″, marked lightly with a pencil, then measured 55″ again before cutting.
- Mark the center of your sun. The Sun’s radius should be 33″ (~84 cm) based on the size of the planets, so first I marked 35″ (~89 cm) from the short edge of the paper from about the middle.
To make sure I was in the middle, next I measured half the butcher paper width from the long edge (18″ in my case) to find the exact location of the center of the sun.
Obviously, the entire sun will not fit on the butcher paper. I considered using 2 pieces of butcher paper stacked on top of each other so that I could fit the entire sun (and maybe when my 3 year old asked why the sun was a rectangle, I should have just gone ahead and done that), but I envision rolling this up and saving it and I felt the extra paper would make it too unwieldy. I might go back and make some extra sun “flaps” at some point.
- Place a knot in some yarn or string and tape it to your sun’s center.
- Next measure out the yarn to 33 inches (~84 cm) and tie a pencil at that distance. Make sure the yarn is slightly taut, so that when you move the pencil around, it is not hard to keep the yarn at that same tension.
- Basically, you are going to use your yarn and pencil as an extra large compass. Move your pencil over to the edge of the paper then draw a circular curve, keeping the distance at as close to 33″ as possible. You can use the tape measure to draw a few reference dots if you want, but it’s not important to be extremely precise.
- Next flip the knot at the Sun’s center around.
- Draw the curve on the other side.
- Now comes the fun (or nerve-racking) part. Give your kids some paint in the color of your choice and some paint brushes and let them go wild. To make the sun look slightly more interesting, I gave my kids 2 different shades of orange. I also painted the edges for them to make it easier for them to stay inside the lines.
- Once the sun is completely painted, give it few hours to dry.
- Once it’s dry, hang it on the wall. (You do need quite a bit of wall space for this project. If that’s impossible given your space, consider hanging the poster on an exterior wall or even leaving it on the floor for a less permanent activity. You could even make your sun out of sidewalk chalk and eliminate the need for butcher paper all together.)
- Cut about an inch off of the soft side of your 6 foot Velcro strip and save it for later. (It will be used to attach the control card to the poster.)
- Fold the soft Velcro strip and cut it in half.
- Use your tape measure and a pencil to mark the center of the butcher paper close to the sun and near the end of the paper. Then remove the backing from a half strip of soft Velcro and stick it to the paper.
- Use your tape measure to mark about 5″ above your first Velcro line and attach your second strip of soft Velcro.
- Attach small pieces of prickly Velcro to the backs of all the planets, planet labels, and control card. You’ll need to cut the pieces extra small for the smallest planets.
- Place your planets and labels onto the Velcro strips using the control card to make sure they are in the correct place.
- Use the extra small piece of soft Velcro you saved to attach your control card to the poster. We put ours along the top edge, but depending on the height of the kids who will be using the poster, you might want to put it lower.
I should point out that to be most precise, you should just fix the knot in place and not the yarn to the side, but the error in doing it the way shown is small.
To have your kids use this activity, take all the planets and labels off, then have your child place the planets and labels on as you learn about the planets in order. To make it more fun, use a picture book like There’s No Place Like Space (affiliate link). Once your child thinks they know all the planets and their order, they can try to place the planets and labels back on from memory, then use the control card to see if they were right.
Click here for more Astronomy activities for kids.