Homeschooling Kindergarten: Teaching the Solar System

There are a couple of subjects that I’ve been meaning to write about for over a year: how I taught my son about the solar system and the weather (which I’ll post soon).

Though I do child-led learning, I see nothing wrong in introducing some subjects to him.  When I consulted a list of what kids typically learn in Kindergarten, I saw the solar system was one of them.  I think it’s a fun subject for little kids. (My son was 4 ~ 5 years old when we did this.)

My philosophy is to introduce the topic to them and then let it go where it may.  They may not take it any farther.  They may want more information.  Or maybe they won’t seem interested, but a few months later, they’ll see something that makes them remember what you taught them, and they’ll have more questions about it.

I was also prompted to teach my son about the solar system because my step-mother told me she got him A Moon In My Room for a birthday gift.  I didn’t think he would completely understand what it was unless I gave him some reference for it. I think he was about four-years-old when we did this.

Prior to my lesson, the only introduction he had to outer space were the few episodes on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse in which Mickey and his friends take a trip into space.  I think that helped him.

For my initial lesson, all I did was print some graphics off the Internet and laminate them, and I also used a box of space cards I had picked up for $1 at Target.  (Found a bunch of those in their dollar section once, and they have proved useful!)

It’s been a long time, so I’m afraid I cannot remember the exact words I used to tell my son about the solar system.  We refer to our globe frequently, and since he had seen Micky fly into the outer space, it wasn’t hard for him to grasp.

I laid the cards on the ground with the sun in the middle, and then I put the planet cards around it in order.  Then we walked around the sun card just like the planets orbit the sun, and we may have read a bit about the planets and space on the backs of the cards.

Little did I know, this would spark an interest in the solar system for my son.  He asked questions, wanted to check out many library books, and (much later) came up with his own project!  See below.

Following my short and sweet lesson, my son’s knowledge about the solar system has been increasing in a long and meandering way. (See Learning is like a Chain Link Fence.). We’ve done the following:

  • Checked books out from the library.  There was a time all my son wanted to do what look at books about the planets.
  • Looked up question(s) on the Internet. I think once my son wanted to know what was inside Jupiter.
  • Checked out the discovery box at the Sandy Creek Nature Center.
  • We happened to get bonus lessons about the solar system in my son’s knee-high naturalist class, and we got to go into their star dome. (And now we can’t wait to visit their new planetarium!  We have visited it, and it’s awesome!)
  • We’ve taken nighttime walks and gazed at the stars. We also bought a telescope for him at his request for Christmas, but *ahem* we don’t really know how to use it yet.
  • Now the subject doesn’t come up much, but occasionally I’ll send him an e-mail about space exploration, if I think he’ll like it. (The Curiosity Rover on Mars is providing some interesting photographs!)
  • I’ve saved the best for last.  Last year out of the blue, my son thought it would be a good idea to make the planets out of paper and hang them along a doorway of our activity room.  They are still hanging there.  This summer when my mother-in-law came to visit, my son could point to each paper planet and name them from memory.

Learning about something as vast as the solar system is most certainly a subject one could spend a lifetime on.  I don’t know if my son will continue to explore astronomy, but he has certainly made that first link in his chain of learning.

Here are a list of books we’ve enjoyed reading:

  • The Planets in Our Solar System, Branley, Franklyn M.
  • Solar System, A Golden Book
  • The Moon Book, Gibbons, Gail
  • The Sun, Spangenburg, Ray
  •  What Makes Day and Night, Branley, Franklyn M.
  • Mercury, Adamson, Thomas K.
  • Mars, Chrismer, Melanie.
  • The Big Dipper, Branley, Franklyn M. & Coxe, Molly
  • Zoo in the Sky: A Book of Animal Constellations, Mitton, Jacqueline

Please stay tuned. In my following posts I’ll talk about the discovery boxes the Sandy Creek Nature Center, how we’ve learned about the weather, some places we’ve been, how to make a terrarium and more…!

What have you used to teach the solar system to your children?

{Update January 2013: My son has continued to learn about the solar system and space exploration in a variety of ways, and recently he has had an interest in rockets!  First, he asked for a rocket for Christmas, and he got a small set of all the U.S. rockets. Then, we started a rocket project, but I’m not sure where it’s going to go.  We’ve read more books (just go to your library!), and right now we’re watching The Planets, a series about space on Netflix.  There’s also a series on the space missions, which we’re planning to watch. He also enjoyed watching this video of a tour of the international space station.}

7 thoughts on “Homeschooling Kindergarten: Teaching the Solar System

  1. My oldest can name probably 80-90% of the planets, and knows a bit about the solar system. As of late, however, she’s been interested in the moon. Have you checked at your library for National Geographic books in the children’s section? We found a GREAT book on the moon and they have many others, including some about the planets. (http://www.amazon.com/Jump-Into-Science-Steve-Tomecek/dp/1426302509/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1352068883&sr=8-3&keywords=the+moon+national+geographic) These books also include a little project for kids in the back. The moon project had us put flour in a round pan and drop rocks into it to make craters. The girls loved it.

    We also watched a NASA documentary on Netflix about landing on the moon. Some of it was way above the girls’ heads, but they watched the whole thing.

    Also, I’d love to know what telescope you bought. I have thought of getting one for our oldest too.

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    1. Ooooo… That looks like a great book! Thanks for the tip! We have not looked specifically for National Geographic books, but there’s a whole shelf on this subject at the library. My son would pull so many of the books out and want to take them home! I think we’ve watched some space stuff on Netflix too, but I can’t remember what. I’ll have to see if I can find the one you mention. I bet he’d like to watch it. We watched a lot of stuff like that in general…nature shows and NOVA. I know my son probably can’t understand half of it, but he sure enjoys watching them!

      I don’t even know what telescope we got. I’ll have to check and get back to you. We probably were a little too ambitious. There are probably easier ones on the market, but we thought at the time it might make a good family hobby. I think maybe it will be fun for us in the future…but it’s complicated, and though my husband is quite savvy about things, this is something he can’t figure out and he doesn’t have time to study it right now.

      We DID use the telescope, and we saw the moon! But the earth moves quickly, and it’s hard to make the telescope move to keep up with the movement and stay in focus.

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