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?


Museum Mornings: Meadowside Nature Center

June 24, 2010

This morning we went out with The Moms from our little group. Five of us and our kids met at Meadowside Nature Center for our weekly museum outing, and we had a blast. The kids owned that place, making themselves comfortable in the pioneer home, cuddling up with the quilts, crawling through the kid-sized cave, and paddling along in the hollowed-out canoe, just like the Native Americans used to do. We played in the front room there for nearly two hours, quietly but creatively, and with the spirit of adventure.

I didn’t have to run after them once. This was a very kid-friendly outing, with just the right tools for the kids to use to create house scenes, adventure scenes, pioneer scenes, explore the “wilderness” indoors, and to do it all without a speck of adult intervention. (Minus the one time we had to rescue the pioneer buckets and such from the wilderness cave. I still don’t see the problem, but we do aim to be good neighbors.) The Moms got to sit and talk while the preschoolers played and the two-year-olds explored closer to us. It’s an incredible time for us now — the kids are independent and secure enough to explore nearby, while the moms finally get to sit and share more than a sentence at a time! We even got to hang with friend UrbanMama today — a playdate long in the making!

My mom and dad met us there. I’ve been excited about this trip ever since I talked to them last night and we arranged it (aren’t they wonderful!). It’s so wonderful to see them, even for short periods, and it was special to me that they were willing to meet my friends and see the boys in their native habitat, as it were. After a quick lunch at one of the boys’ favorite places, we were back home for an afternoon of … napping, apparently, as I slept all afternoon for the third fourth fifth day in a row. Sigh. I thought I could make it today, but it was not to be. I was so embarrassed when I woke up at a quarter til five!

But the good thing about family is that they love you anyway. At least, I hope they do!

Radiation Status: Day 26 of 35. My oncologist has stopped my treatment due to severe burns and blistering under my armpit. I’m also under orders to not cover the area, which means sleeveless or cut-away shirts for the next week or two. She is allowing treatment to continue on my mastectomy scar only, a different treatment, using electrons at a significantly higher energy (a more intense treatment than what I described recently). So I’ll get more burned, but over a smaller area. I’m still using the biafine cream three times a day, plus a special healing ointment (like neosporin, but gentler) for the blisters and open wounds in my armpit. It stings, like any burn would, but isn’t at all unmanageable.  My radiation techs (Kim, Kerri, Janice, and Pam) say my skin elsewhere is holding up really, really well.  I’m glad.

This morning my  post at Mamapedia goes live; I’m talking over there about how cancer makes me angry. If you’re a regular reader here, you’ve heard the story before. But maybe talking about it over there will reach one mom who has never heard of inflammatory breast cancer, or inspire one more mom to fight.


Little Boy Heaven

April 24, 2009

If the Council of Four Year Olds decided at its annual meeting (what? they talk! how else do you think they would all spontaneously arrive at the concepts for war games and rescuing bugs at the exact same age, <i>despite</i> being assiduously overprotected and/or warned since birth?) to define a universal definition of Little Boy Heaven, it might look something like this:

6:30 a.m. Wake up and jump on Mom’s head.

7:00 a.m. Eat waffles, with fresh blueberries and syrup to dip in, as a special treat

8:00 a.m. Take a ride in the car, past not one but TWO construction sites, and slow down to identify each and every truck, by name AND function.

8:20 a.m. Wave at the horses.

9:30 a.m. Take a break, and run around on the playground with Mom.  Bonus points if the toddler brothers go down the slide all by themselves, squealing with delight.

9:50 a.m. Races across the fresh-cut grass.

10:15 a.m. Meet friends at a neighborhood rummage sale.  Decide with colleagues (all four year old boys) to buy battleship game.  Then change minds in favor of chocolate cupcakes.

10:20 a.m. Smear chocolate icing on shirtsleeves (don’t forget to lick the sprinkles off the wristband).

10:40 a.m. Invite each other back “to check out mine car.”

11:15 a.m. After a thorough inspection of the Minivan of the Day, complete with automatic door testing, agree to part ways, briefly, and meet up for playdate after lunch.

12:00 p.m. Arrive home, discover men in trees, with ropes and chainsaws.  Sit on the driveway to watch.

2:00 p.m.  Realize that we’ve been sitting on the driveway and circling the garage with our bikes for several hours.  Demand snack and capri suns.

2:25 p.m. Dirt delivery.

2:30 p.m. Adjourn with friends to the back yard, to dig in the garden and fill it with even more dirt.

2:35 p.m. Pick up first worm.

2:40 p.m. Cordon off area of the garden where the baby worm was found, and put up a sign so no one disturbs it.

2:45 p.m. Abandon afternoon’s plans for impromptu wade in the creek.

3:15 p.m. Get stuck, and figure out how to get unstuck.

3:30 p.m. Allow mothers to fuss over us, and to change us from the waist down because all our clothes are wet, and it’s getting a bit chilly out here, don’t you think?

4:00 p.m. Submarine play in the Splashatorium.

4:30 p.m. Another snack.  Something sweet this time.

4:55 p.m. Battleship.

5:30 p.m. Pizza for dinner.

6:00 p.m. Wii with Daddy.

7:30 p.m. Snuggles and stories, and dreams of high adventure.

Friends, this was (yet another) perfect day.  My little boys and I were in Little Boy Heaven, and we’re happy to finally spend bright spring days together outside, digging, climbing, exploring, learning, and adventuring together.

It may not seem like much, but to me, it’s everything.

All those months sick in bed, taking poision through my veins, willingly burning my skin, and submitting to surgeries … today, they were worth it.  Today, my heart sang with the birds and laughed like a two-year-old.

I’ve been waiting for this day for so long. And now, I’ve had it not once, but two or even three times in one week.

I wonder what we will do tomorrow.


A baby butterfly

April 7, 2009

I cannot believe I have a butterfly in my living room.  A baby butterfly, no less, just a few hours old.  There’s something a little magical about that.

This morning, we had a few friends over to celebrate spring break (yes, it was too cold, but no, that didn’t deter us … I just declared it spring regardless of the temperature).  The kids were swarming around the playset out back, the mamas standing around, laughing and talking quietly, enjoying the morning.  Then, a voice came trilling through the air: “A poisonous butterfly!”

I thought he was joking.  But when we walked over, there it was, a huddled little lump of butterfly stuck in a corner of the little tykes slide, shivering, and looking for all the world like she was a goner.  A quick poll of the moms showed that we all agreed:  she wouldn’t last long.  We weren’t even sure she was still alive.  She was just a little yellow mushy thing, crushed in the corner after a preschooler’s touch.

So we decided to make it a teaching moment.

I ran inside for last summer’s bug box, and the kids gathered ’round.  I picked her up gently — so gently — trying not to touch her wings, and put her little body in the critter box.  The kids ran and found things they thought she would like: long grass, little sticks, and a rock.  (A rock?  Widget explained, “for her to sit on.”  So, okay, a rock.)  Two minutes later, she had a tricked-out critter crib and we brought her inside to warm up.

At first, nothing happened.

Then, Stimey noticed that she had crawled up the side of the box and was hanging onto the screen wall.

She dropped her wings, slowly, and fanned them out beneath her.

And they began to dry.   She began to warm up, and her wings began to dry.

As they dried, the kids lost interest, but I sat there still, fascinated at the little drama.  After a while, Widget and Bear sprinkled apple juice water on the grass nearby, wetting it just a little in case she was ready to eat.

She spread her wings, and she was beautiful.


Launch Fest!

August 14, 2008

I love living here in D.C.

When my preschooler woke up this morning, he toddled into our room and said sleepily, “Mommy, I want to go to Goddard Space Center.” Because we live where we do, the way that we do, I was able to say, “Okay, honey, let’s go!” We packed a snack, called a friend, and took off for a fun morning of adventure at the Goddard Space Flight Center Visitor Center.

The kids had a blast. After donning flight suits and helmets, they played in the space capsule, flipping switches and hitting “nav buttons” to their hearts’ content. They watched videos, explored exhibits, and gawked at the science on a sphere. They were excited, happy, and most of all interested in so many exhibits and even a little learning. When we needed a break, we popped outside for some rocket time and raucous joy.

We topped it off with lunch at 5 Guys (burgers and fries).

Really, free summer days don’t get any better than this.

Oh, wait. There’s a day this Fall that might be better, if you’re also a space buff like me and my kids. I just found out about LAUNCH FEST 08, a special event at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. For more information, read on or visit the Launch Fest website! Twitter-friends Geokitten and Igmom assure me that it’s totally appropriate for even the littlest of little ones. I am SO excited. Here’s the blurb from GSFC’s website:

Explore the Universe in Your Own Backyard!

Mark your calendar! NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center invites all to enter our gates on September 13, 2008! Come and learn about the Goddard Space Flight Center as we prepare for an unprecedented year of 15 major science launches! This FREE event will feature interactive demonstrations, entertainment, a variety of local food vendors and fun for the whole family.


Swallowing my pride

May 8, 2008

Ma’am!  Ma’am!  Strollers aren’t allowed inside.

Did you hear me?

Strollers aren’t allowed.

As I walked up to the table where the volunteer would take our tickets, I hesitated, wondering if perhaps I should just turn around and go back to the car.  I have two little children who want to see the butterfly exhibit, but I also have lymphedema, a swelling of my arm that at times is so severe that it is difficult to lift a drink of water, much less a child.  I’m wearing my lymphedema sleeve and glove, helping to move the lymph around and restore proper circulation, but it takes days to work and sometimes I need a professional’s help.  In any case, I can’t lift or carry my 15 month old for more than a minute or two.

But here we are at the butterfly exhibit, and the ticket taker is bellowing at me, catching everyone’s attention, or so I imagine.  My friend murmurs her help, and I thank her, but this is something I must do for myself.

I walk up to the booth, push the stroller discretely to the side, and say, “I’m sorry, but I have cancer.  I can’t carry my little boy.  Could you make an exception?”

Two supervisors later, the answer is yes, and I am ushered into the butterfly house, only to meet a very tall and very stern man at the entrance.  His words echo through the plaza:

Strollers aren’t allowed inside.

Eventually, the prohibition is lifted.  My friend brings the older boys to the entrance, and we all enjoy the butterflies together.  I spend most of the time crouched down by my baby in the stroller, tears in my eyes, showing Little Bear the butterflies.

Bear and the Butterflies

It was so worth it.

In memoriam: Deirdre D, after a 3+ year fight with IBC.  Deirdre was known to me only through the list, but I followed her battle and mourn for her today.  She leaves behind a five year old son.


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