Despite reading countless books and exploring stars with several activities, the concept of the solar system remained an abstract, almost mythological, concept for my preschoolers. This was never more evident than on the 4th of July – while waiting for fireworks, I started pointing out the planets in the early night sky to my 4 year old. “But Mom, the planets are in space, not here!” To try to make our presence in space more of a reality to her, I set up a hands-on, Solar System Sensory Play experience.
Exploring Space through Hands On Play
I am fascinated by seeing my preschoolers make connections from the topics we learn about within the real world. But I’m also equally entertained by their very literal interpretations at times, and inability to connect abstract concepts. The solar system is mystifying to even the oldest of learners, capturing the imaginations and fascination of children and grown-ups alike. Reinforcing what we read about the planets, stars and the night sky with hands-on play, like in this Glow in the Dark Solar System Sensory Play experience, is a great way to help small learners feel more connected to space, which otherwise remains distant and out of their reach.
Great Books to Introduce the Solar System
While we have been studying the stars for the last few weeks, I wanted to explore the bigger picture – the complete solar system. To introduce the concept, we grabbed a few non-fiction books perfect for preschool and early elementary learners from the library. I love to use books as a launching point for learning, and these were perfect to being our discussion of space, beyond the stars.
Setting Up Your Sensory Bin
Sensory play is a great way to let your child explore new concepts independently. Our study of the stars has included several sensory play experiences, including these Star Gazing Discovery Bottles and our Constellation Sensory Bag. Building a sensory bin is simple – you only need a container to hold your materials, filler – in this case, water beads, or ‘orbies’ as my YouTube obsessed preschoolers like to call them, and the subject of study and exploration – stars and planets!
We had an assorted collection of water beads in 0.5g packages, and used the 3-4 packages of the black and purple ones as our sensory bin filler, or approximately half of the package listed above. Add your beads to your plastic bin, and measure water per package instructions. Allow your beads to sit in the water for 2-3 hours, or overnight for maximum absorbancy. Then, add your planets and stars to the bin, and let your kids explore the solar system!
Sensory Play for All Ages
I knew sensory bins were always a hit with my toddler and preschooler. But my nephews, who are 6 and 7, were visiting when we first set up our Solar System Sensory Bin.
They had as much fun as the girls, and it was fun to watch the boys teach as well as learn. They helped my preschoolers name the planets, order them in the bin, and lead space exploration missions too!
Hours of Play, For Weeks!
The Solar System Sensory Bin has been a fixture on our playroom table now for two weeks, and STILL gets played with daily. The princesses have flown among the planets, the Bubbles Guppies have played among the stars… and when we need a little more excitement, we take it into the bathroom where it will light up and glow in the dark!
For more space-themed sensory play, you might also enjoy Space-Themed Sensory Summer Camp from My Mundane and Miraculous Life! Be sure to catch the rest of our Studying the Stars series as it continues this summer. You can find all of these, and more STEAM favorites from around the web on our STEM for Kids – Science board.
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