Meet the Planets (with giveaway!)

April 28, 2011

Meet The Planets, by John McGranaghan, is a beautiful way to introduce your kid (or your kid’s classroom) to our solar system!  The style is casual and conversational, with Pluto as the host of a game show-like Favorite Planet Competition.  The illustrations, by Laurie Allen Klein, are intricately detailed and simply gorgeous, with so much more than the planets themselves illustrated — each page also includes depictions of spacecraft visiting the planets and an audience of astronomers, moons, and constellation imagery.  The book is great as an on-your-own exploration or an engaging read-aloud for younger kids.  We’ve had our copy for a few days, and my kindergartner has picked it up to investigate on his own again and again.

A helpful appendix includes six pages of learning activities, not unlike the ones in the Tag books for little ones, but these much more intricately detailed, teaching science, math, technology, and education (STEM) skills like collecting data, working with time and temperature, comparing the length of a day and a year for the planets, working with large numbers (up to 4.5 billion km, the average distance from the Sun to Neptune), images to explore (from Stonehenge to Cassini), and a true/false quiz based on facts introduced earlier in the book.  The activities are supplemented with additional free activities that anyone can download.

This book is a lot of fun, with beautiful illustrations and a concept that doesn’t leave poor little Pluto out in the cold.  Well, not any colder than he already is! 

Full disclosure: C and I reviewed this book for scientific accuracy; we’re credited on the flap, but we received no financial compensation for the work or for this post.  I did receive a couple copies to use or give away —

If you’d like to be entered to win a copy of Meet the Planets, just leave a comment below.  For extra entries, “like” Toddler Planet and/or Women in Planetary Science on Facebook, and leave another comment telling me that you’ve done so!  I’ll use random.org to select the winner and mail the books at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, May 3.


Wishes

April 26, 2011

Dandelion, taken by Louise DockerAs we set off on our early morning walk, Little Bear scooting along on his tricycle and 6 year old Widget on his bike, the sky was blue and clear, the weekend’s rainclouds just a memory.

Four year old Little Bear stopped and plucked a dandelion in full feather, saying, “I wish for a dog!” “Me too,” cried his brother. Me three, I said, and we blew the fluff right off that dandelion so enthusiastically that a seed or two landed in Little Bear’s open mouth. Sputtering, he recovered his dignity and we continued up the hill.

At the top, Widget picked a second dandelion, asking me first what I wished for, if I could have anything in the world. As we had had a little talk about cancer that morning, preparing him for an upcoming class for kids of parents with cancer, I was honest with him, kneeling down and telling him my wish for many more years together.  “Me too!” said Widget, and he asked “What do you wish for, Bear?” “A dog!” said Bear, oblivious to the topic at hand, focused entirely on the Chow we’d passed earlier.

We blew that dandelion out fiercely, taking care to avoid Bear’s face this time, but one must have floated back our direction, because as I heard Widget explain what had just happened to Bear, I had to wipe something from my eye.  Such little bits of children they are, to deal with such big topics, but so strong.

My sadness disappeared quickly as I heard Widget explain, “We wished for many more years together, Bear. Maybe even a whole lifetime!”

The sun was shining as he pedaled away, and the birds sang happily above.


A Grocery Store for Tigers

April 23, 2011

When the kids caught me resting in bed again, I made light of it and invited them to watch a little tv with me.  We clicked through the channels and found nothing that we both wanted to watch, until we saw that Discovery was airing an old-school nature documentary.  Intrigued, we paused, and C joined me as we re-introduced the children to the wild beauty of a nature flick, tigers, gazelles, herons, and all. 

We watched the beauty of the savannah and the tiger leaping majestically through the air in final pursuit of the gazelle, landing with a thud as he broke the weaker animal’s neck and began to feast.  Then my children protested, stunned at the violence of the wild, asking “Why, Mommy?”  Why did that tiger chase the deer, Mommy?  Why that tiger EAT the deer?

Oh, my child.  My sweet, sensitive, sheltered children.  I’ve protected you from the harsh realities of cancer and death for so long that somehow I’ve neglected to teach you about death, and now you are 4 and 6 and shocked that animals must kill other animals for meat.  I remembered to teach you that death exists, as we bought guppy after guppy and talked about fish eating other fish, but your sensitive child minds never made the leap.

So we snuggled in and watched a little more and talked about it, your father at first making light of it, answering, “Because tigers can’t go to the grocery store!”  We laughed and snuggled and broke the hard facts to you gently and at the end you understood that tigers hunt to provide food for their families and for survival, and that we can be sad for the gazelles but happy for the tigers, because they got to feed their baby cubs.

And what you took away from it was fascinating, proclaiming after the movie,

Mama, when I grow up, I open a grocery store for tigers.

I chuckled and hugged you and told you that was a wonderful idea, for it was, and I was so proud of you for thinking of it.  For facing the problem head-on and for answering the violence that you saw with a creative, non-violent solution.  And so we all four agreed that when you boys grew up, we would move to the savannah and open the Niebur Family Grocery Store for Tigers.  Even though we knew full well that you would grow up and understand and lose interest in the meantime, we supported you two, and we took you seriously, and we wanted to help you change the world, to make it just a little better for the gazelles.


Planetary telescopes for preschoolers: how to

March 29, 2011

Construction paper, tape, hole punch, pin, stickers or crayonsThis is a fun craft/activity to help little kids learn about planets and the stars.  There are many ways to make a planetary telescope; this is one simple way that’s easy for busy parents to help their kids make their very own telescope and learn about the solar system.

What you’ll make: (nonworking) telescopes that your kids can use to view the planets, stars, and, well, just about anything else.

What you’ll need: Construction paper or cardstock, tape, hole punch, straight or safety pin, and pictures of the solar system or constellations. 

Prep time: 5 minutes, for downloading pictures of the solar system from this NASA web site, or for finding your own pictures in a book, magazine, or newspaper.  Set aside a piece of dark construction paper (blue and green work best) and cut a 4″ square of black construction paper for each child. pinholes in black paper make stars Take the pin and poke holes in the black square.  Punch a single hole in the paper if you have a hole punch handy.  If you’re feeling really brave, punch the pinholes in the design of one of the constellations… but this totally isn’t necessary (I didn’t think of it — thanks to Kim in NY for the idea!).

The words you use and the way you implement the activity is up to you, of course.  The idea is to use the rolled up construction paper to look at the planets, and then tape the black paper with pinholes to the end and look out the window or near a bright light to see the “stars.”  In the rest of this post,  I’ll share with you a bit of how it went when Widget (age 6) and I did this project with Little Bear (age 4)’s preschool class, just because it was such fun and I want to remember.  I’ll spare you the pauses, interruptions, and little kid stories, but just know that there were dozens and it was awesome.

Me: Have you ever been outside late at night and seen the stars? (Most of them had, and they wanted to tell me all about it!  After a bit, I continued.)  They’re beautiful, aren’t they?  Did you know that for a very long time, that’s the best that anyone could see the stars?  But people have always wondered about the night sky, and they wanted to be able to see the stars and planets better.  Once upon a time, a very long time ago, a man named Galileo made a new tool so he could see the stars better.  He called it a telescope. (At this, I rolled a piece of paper into a cylinder, lengthwise, and sealed it with a piece of tape.  A staple at each end works better but may be sharp.) 

This is a tool that scientists use to see the stars and planets better.  Would you like one to use today? (Widget handed a cylinder to each child as I talked.)  A real telescope has mirrors and lenses (touch eyeglasses to show what a lens is), but this one will work fine for today.  Is everybody ready to use their telescopes to see the stars? (chorus of yes)

Does anyone know what our closest star is?

The sun!  That’s right, the sun that you see in the sky every day is actually a star, and while it looks warm and friendly to us, when the mommies and daddies who work at NASA made a big enough telescope, they found out that it really looks like this: (show them the real picture of the sun; for very young kids, fold the picture back so that only the largest image shows).  What does that look like to you?  Do you think it’s cold there, or hot?  That’s right, it’s very hot!  It’s so hot that it warms the planets in our solar system.  Would you like to see some planets now?

Mercury is the planet closest to the sun (show them the picture of Mercury).  It is very, very hot on the side closest to the sun, but it has a secret — it turns around (rotates) very, very slowly, so one side is almost always hot — and the other is very, very cold!  On Mercury, it takes almost a year for the planet to turn enough so that it goes from day to night and night to day again, so one side is really hot, and the other side is really cold.  Does that sound like a fun place to live?  (Kids say no.)  Let’s get a better look, through our telescopes!  (Widget shows the picture to the kids, moving it slowly so that each can get a really good look in turn.)

Venus is the next planet.  (Show picture, kids look at it through telescopes while we talk.)  It’s still pretty close to the sun.  Do you think Venus is hot or cold?  (hot)  Venus is hot, and it is not a great place to live. 

Let’s see.  What colors are on this next planet?  (Show the picture of Earth; it is blue, green, and white).  That’s right.  Does anyone know what this planet is?  That’s right, Earth!  What do you think the blue is? (water) What do you think the green is? (grass, trees, or land) And what do you think these white swirly things are that are way up above the water and the land?  That’s right, clouds!  Isn’t this planet beautiful?  Let’s pretend we’re out in space and we can see it with our telescopes.  Ready, set, go! (Show picture as kids look at it through the telescopes.)

And so on and so forth.  After Mars (red, hot, dusty, with occasional dust devils; feel free to compare the red color to the look of a rusty nail if your kids have ever seen one – it’s actually very much the same kind of thing), stop at the asteroid belt and ask them what an asteroid looks like.  They might be disappointed – and that’s ok – it does really just look like a rock.  That’s because it IS a rock. 

Then the gas giants – Jupiter, with its swirly storms; Saturn, with its beautiful rings; Uranus and Neptune, which I admit I did together because we don’t know a lot about them yet and the kids were getting fidgety; and icy Pluto, which used to be a planet but now has its own special name: dwarf planet, and it hangs out at the edge of the solar system with lots of other dwarf planets that mommies and daddies have found with great big telescopes … and some that haven’t even yet been discovered. 

Encouraging the kids to look at each picture through their very own telescope helped keep even the 3 year olds engaged for this 30 minute activity, and I was very happy with the way this activity came out.  It was a fun way to introduce these little ones to the solar system where we live, and I left the black squares with pinholes with the teacher for a craft later in the morning — just tape the squares to the end of the planetary telescope and hold it up to a window or in a well-lit room so that they can see the stars, even if they’re not allowed to stay up late very often to see the real ones.  I loved doing this activity with my kids and the kids at preschool, and I hope this helps you do this activity or another one with your kids too!

More kids solar system activities can be found at NASA Kids.


Planetary telescopes

March 28, 2011

Construction paper, pins, tape, hole punch, stickersToday we’re going to teach Little Bear’s classroom about space!  The kids are 3 and 4, so we’re going to keep it hands-on and light. . . literally!

We’re going to help each kid make a “telescope” out of construction paper and point it at pictures of the planets, to see how they’re different.  After we talk about the planets a while, we’ll tape a piece of black paper with pinholes to the end of the telescope and look through it at a light — to see “the stars.”  It’s an easy craft to make, and I hope it will be a fun way to introduce these little ones to the planets and put the stars within their reach.  (Even if they’re not allowed to stay up late enough to see the real ones!)

I can post instructions and a debrief afterwards — but now, I’ve got to run — Widget and I have a date to teach Bear’s class about the planets and the stars, and I am SO HAPPY.

The idea for this craft came from Marissa, at Our Daylight Adventures, who did the toilet paper telescope craft with her son for Team WhyMommy’s Virtual Science Fair last April.  The Virtual Science Fair was such an amazing gift — I read through all the projects again last week, and I still can’t believe it.  I wanted to go through and leave comments everywhere, since I was too sick to do it April 7 after my surgery (though I read and loved them all!), but who checks comments on year-old posts?


Flying towards Saturn

March 16, 2011

Cassini image of SaturnEver wondered what it would be like to fly into space?  I mean WAY into space? 

Although humans aren’t ready to go back to the Moon or to Mars, we have sent out dozens of spacecraft to the planets and beyond.  Most of the instruments send back data that scientists analyze and tell us what it means.  But on almost every mission, there is also a camera — so that everyone can be part of the experience.  Check out this new video from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft as it heads toward Saturn, just missing cloudy Titan and dry Mimas, two of Saturn’s moons.

Incredible!


Happy. Nice. Curious.

February 9, 2011

I worry about my kids.  I worry a LOT about my kids.  How are they making it through this crazy time?  How do they deal with hearing my name listed among the sick that we pray for at church every Sunday?  How do they feel when they hear me say, “No, honey, Mama can’t” wrestle or swordfight or take them for a walk? 

Are they ok?

Are they going to be ok when they’re teenagers, or all grown up?  Will this time be a defining moment for them, something to point to in future therapy sessions?  Will they be ok?

But yesterday, my oldest brought home a drawing from school that made my heart sing.  They drew pictures of snow globes, and, out of anything in the world, he chose to draw himself playing with two friends.  He drew friends.

He didn’t draw the dark scary place that I was in.  He drew the happy, kid place that he was in.

And he’s going to be ok.

Today, he came home with simple homework:  write three words that describe who you are.  We waited to hear what words he’d choose, and, after his bath tonight, he told us:

Happy.  Nice.  and then he asked his Dad what word he’d use to describe him, curious what he would say.  Dad said, “curious.”  Widget smiled, and there the words were, all out in the open.  WhyMommy’s oldest boy had fulfilled her deepest hopes, all at the age of 6.  He is happy.  He is nice to others and his friends.  And he does ask “Why, Mommy?” just like I dreamed, well before he could talk.  They’re still the sweetest words, next to the last ones I hear every night, as I turn off his light and kiss his forehead as he goes to sleep:

“I love you too, Mommy.”


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