Sometimes it isn't until you can really see something that you can truly understand it. That's tricky when it comes to learning about outer space. To help my boys understand the distance of the planets from the sun, we made a model on the sidewalk with chalk.
Sidewalk chalk in various colors
Bowls, plates, lids for tracing
Illustration of the planets as a reference
What to Do
Draw a VERY large sun with chalk. Look at your bowls, lids, and plates. Use your illustration of the solar system as a guide, picking the largest bowl for Jupiter and others to represent the relative size of the remaining seven planets.
Now use the following measurements and the tape measure; trace the circles, coloring them to match your illustration. Label each.
Distance from the Sun to Mercury = 12 inches
Distance from Mercury to Venus = 10 inches
Distance from Venus to Earth = 8 inches
Distance from Earth to Mars = 16 inches
Distance from Mars to Jupiter = 9 1/2 feet
Distance from Jupiter to Saturn = 19 feet
Distance from Saturn to Uranus = 24 feet
Distance from Uranus to Neptune = 28 feet
*These distances have been rounded to make measuring easier for small children.
The model is not an exact representation of the distances.
Talk about which planets are closest to the sun and which are farthest. Make hypotheses about what each planet is might be like, based on its distance from the sun.
Since we recently read a book about the mission to Mars, I reminded my son that it will take two months for astronauts to travel from Earth to Mars. Knowing that, how long would it take to travel to other planets if we could?
This activity was simple, yet packed with learning potential. And the best part is that it hasn't even rained yet. Our solar system is still there for us to explore!
Great Books to Pair with This Activity
This activity was adapted from The Astronomical Society of the Pacific.