Stars and Constellations – Astronomy for Kids


Our class theme this week was Astronomy – Stars and Constellations.

The big question for our preschool age kids was: What’s a star? (And what star is nearest to your home?) For older kids, we asked them “what’s a constellation”?

Science Projects

Make a constellation viewer. Cut out a constellation pattern, glue it to some black paper, tape that over the end of a toilet paper tube, then use a thumb tack to punch holes everywhere there’s a star. Voila – you’ve made a viewer that when you look through it, you see the constellation. You can shine a flashlight through the tube to project the constellation on the wall. More how-to details / tutorial here.

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Make a constellation projector. Kids took a large margarine tub (or a cardboard snack tray) and placed it bottom up on the table. Then they taped a constellation pattern on the tub. img_20170225_094641943They then used either thumb tacks or nails and hammers to poke holes in the tub everywhere a star appeared on the star chart. (The thumb tacks were plenty strong to poke the holes, but kids enjoyed using the nails and hammers.) When finished, they could place the tub over a flashlight or lantern and project the constellations on the ceiling.

Why do stars twinkle: Kids can trace star templates onto foil, cut out the stars and glue them to black paper. Then take them to a dark room. When you shine a flashlight on the stars, what do you see? Now place a small glass bowl of water on top of the star and shine a light through. Now jiggle the water and look again. Or hold the water up by your eye, and look through it at the foil. You may see that looking through moving water makes the stars look like they’re twinkling, like when we look through our atmosphere the stars twinkle. The Educated Preschooler and M.A.R.S. Astronomy Club talk about this experiment. It was not as clear an illustration of the idea as I was hoping for.

Art Projects

Make a star chart felt board. Kids took a folder, opened it up and glued black (or deep blue) felt to one side. Then they cut out white felt stars and moon that they could use to lay out constellations. When done, they can store the stars in the pocket of the folder.

Alternatively, you could just make one large felt board and stars for them to play with.

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Collaborative Collage: We put out black foam core, white crayons, glue, cotton balls, legumes, and other items to represent stars, and encouraged kids to create a “night sky.” Mrs. Myer’s Kindergarten has a really nice example of one of these.


Starry Night: We had a poster of Van Gogh’s Starry Night next to the easel, and put out the paint colors needed for it and big brushes so children could try to duplicate it some of the swirls of color.


Pocket star: In closing circle, we would sing a song about putting a star in your pocket, and read a book about that too, so we wanted to make pocket stars. img_20170225_092310527I had to think of something small, but sturdy, that had a star shape yet didn’t have a lot of poky edges. We bought  Wood Stars and Wood Disks, which we decorated with Chalk Markers and glued together with Tacky Glue. We had 3/4″ stars and 1″ wood disks, which were really pretty small – you could go a little bigger.

I should note: chalk markers are designed for writing on non-porous surfaces, like chalkboards or glass, then washing off with water. When you use them on wood, they soak into the wood as well as a paint marker or a Sharpie does, but they wash off kids’ hands, so they’re perfect for a project like this.

Glow in the Dark Sticker Constellations. We had black paper (we put out half sheets, but learned full sheets would have been better), Glow in The Dark Sticker Stars, and these constellation cards and chalk. I got this idea from Artsy Momma. You could do this with gold stars if you already have those, as they do on Gift of Curiosity.

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There are lots of materials you could use to make constellations – glue gems on paper, or marshmallows, or stick together marshmallow and toothpick constellations, etc.

Art / Engineering Challenge: Star Mobile. Last year, we had cardstock they could glue aluminum foil to and then cut out stars. (That’s the art / small motor practice part.) Then, they moved to another table to assemble a mobile. Figuring out how to balance the arms of a mobile is definitely an engineering challenge – deciding how long the strings should be, how many items to put on each arm so it balances, and so on. This project was aimed at our 5 – 7 year olds and was definitely a challenge for them and their parents. Both parts (making the stars and making the mobile) were too challenging for our little ones, so we didn’t do this project this year. It would be great for 8 – 10 year olds.

Math / Science Skills: Sorting: Sorting is one of the core science skills, so we do it a lot. This week we just printed paper stars in 6 colors and four sizes. We suggested that they first sort by color, then by size, then find “the smallest yellow and biggest purple.”


Tinker / Free Play

Tinker toy constellations: We put out tinker toys and constellation cards for kids to explore:


Giant Tinker Toy Constellations: We have a set of giant tinker toys. We drew three constellations on the board, and encouraged kids to replicate them, using the “hub” pieces of tinker toys as stars, and the “tubes” to connect them into constellations. To be honest, the kids used the tinker toys as construction toys, and built blasters, light sabers, lawn mowers, chairs, etc. But one of the dads built a great model of the Orion constellation!

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Sensory Table: We had purple sand with “gems” and “coins” mixed in, and star shaped containers to fill and pour.


Sewing Stars: We found these cards on Kids Activities Blog. We printed, laminated, punched holes with our 2″ reach Hole Punch that punches an “equals sign” shape that is great for running ribbons through. We put this out with plastic lanyard string. One thing I discovered: the best constellations for this project are things like Cassiopeia or Andromeda where you’re always moving in one direction. Constellations like Canis Major have “dead ends” that mean you have to double back on the lacing which is hard.


Geo-Boards: This are an easy “connect the dot” activity where kids fasten rubber bands on the nails on a board to make patterns. This ties in with the idea of looking up at the stars and connecting the dots to make constellations.

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Coloring / Connect the Dots: We also considered having a project where kids could connect the dots to form constellations, then color them in. If you search for “constellation coloring pages for kids” you’ll find lots of options for this.

Matching Game: You could also create a matching game, where some of the cards showed a picture of a pattern of stars without the constellation drawn, other cards show the lines of the constellation and others show the illustration of the constellations.


Opening Circle

Song: We told them that they all know a song about a star. We asked what it was. Most shouted “Twinkle Twinkle!” and then we sang it. You could sing it again, and show them sign language words they could use to say the words of the song with their hands. (See a video of the signs here.)

Book: A good introduction to astronomy is Our Stars by Rockwell. (See below) Or, if you’re doing a planetarium trip, you could read Fancy Nancy Sees Stars. (See below)

We explained the basic concepts of stars and constellations, and showed a telescope and talked about how it could be used to study the stars.

We asked them when you could see stars. They all say at night. But then we say “hmmm… is there a star we can see in the daytime?” Someone will know that yes, we see the sun in the daytime and it is a star. We talk about how it’s not the biggest or the brightest star, but it is by far the closest star to us, which makes it look big and bright. And it’s so bright in the daytime that it drowns out the light of the other stars. We told them to imagine the lamp was the sun. Then we used a “starry night” lantern (similar to this one) – when we first turned it on, you couldn’t see any stars… but then we turned off the lamp to represent night time and they could see that the lantern was projecting stars on the wall. (You could also use a flashlight and your DIY star projectors for this illustration.)

We talked about constellations – how members of ancient cultures “connected the dots” to make constellations and told stories about those constellations to make them easier to recognize and remember.

We had drawn the Big Dipper on the board. We extended the drawing to show how it was part of Ursa Major – the big bear. We asked the kids if bears really have long tails like that, then told the story of why this one does: we simplified it down to “Zeus wanted to save a bear from a hunter, so he picked it up by the tail, swung it round and round his head and threw it up into the sky.” (For more details on this story, plus tales of this constellation from Mongolia, China, and Native American Algonquin and Blackfoot tribes, go to You can also search for ‘myths of big dipper” – this star cluster is one of the most recognizable, so appears in many cultures. You could also share the song “Follow the Drinking Gourd.” Slaves escaping the south via the Underground Railroad sang this song, which refers to the big dipper, which points to the north star. If they aimed for the north star, they were heading north.)

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Dramatic Play – We told a very simplified story of Perseus and Andromeda (see a full story here, or listen to a podcast children’s story telling the tale from Andromeda’s perspective.) We had a serpent puppet, an Andromeda puppet, and a Perseus costume, and children could take turns acting it out.


Closing Circle

Rhyme: We taught the rhyme “Star Bright, Star Light, First Star I See Tonight. Wish I may, wish I might, have this wish I wish tonight.” Then we asked them what they might wish for.

Book – Stars by Mary Lyn Ray. We said we’d talked about the science of stars, now we were going to talk about the magic of stars, and how people throughout history have thought about them as magical and special. We read this book which is a fanciful story of making a star to keep in your pocket.


Song – Catch a Falling Star: We taught the chorus of “Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, save it for a rainy day. Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, never let it fade away.” Then, we put on the music (using this YouTube video), and blew bubbles, pretending the bubbles were falling stars they were trying to catch. (A couple minutes of catching bubbles is always a hit with this age group!) You could also make “comet streamers” by tying plastic ribbon onto wooden rings, and dance around with those.

Pin the star on the sky – If we had more time with the kids, we’d play this game: With eyes closed, have kids stick stars onto a piece of paper, then draw lines connecting them into a picture and create a story for their constellation. (Source)

Oral History: If you’re home schooling, or teaching a program where you see children several times during one theme, this would be a great activity: Read child(ren) a constellation story. Then have child(ren) tell the story back to you. Or have a group of children make up a constellation story. During the week, have children re-tell it over and over. At the end of the week, see how the current tale relates to the original. Idea:

For more star activities that work for ages 1 – 5, check out my Fun With Toddlers series post about Stars and Moons.

Recommended Books

  • Our Stars by Rockwell. I think this is a perfect book for circle time for 4 – 6 year olds – it’s a nice overview of everything you need to know about space and astronomy. My husband has quibbles with some of the details (like where it says “I can see billions of stars” which is more than you really see, or where it says “when you see Orion in the sky… it’s the season to harvest” – he thinks it needs to specify when you see Orion in the EVENING sky, as you can see it later in the night or early in the morning at lots of times other than harvest season) but I think the overall quality of the book outweighs these little things.
  • The Sky Is Full of Stars by Branley (an expert astronomer) is another very nice overview of astronomy and constellations, and I really recommend it for a 5 – 7 year old. But it’s long, so not a circle time book.
  • The Big Dipper (is also by Branley and is quite a nice introduction to star gazing and constellations, with focused attention on one – the Big Dipper. I like this focus, because I think it would then be easy for you to find the Big Dipper with your child within a few days of reading this book and they’d have the excitement of recognition. Appropriate for circle time (engaging and short) for ages 3 – 6, or kindergarten age.
  • How to Catch a Star  by Jeffers. I really love this book (as I loved Stars – described under circle time) for it’s imaginative / fantasy feel. There’s a boy who loves stars and wants one to put in his pocket. He tries and tries to reach it, then gives up, then a sea star washes ashore for him to carry. Pretty, elegantly simple illustrations. I think this would be a good circle time book for ages 3 and up. My five year old found it delightful as he understood that there was no way the boy would get a real star, but then it was fun when a different kind of star came to him.
  • Once Upon a Starry Night: A Book of Constellations  by Mitton is a companion to Zoo in the Sky. It’s also a very pretty book. It shows the stars of constellations as part of a fully illustrated image of what that constellation represents, and has a very brief version of the story that goes with the constellation – not informative enough to be your only book on the topic but pretty enough that you’ll want to look at it!
  • Stars! Stars! Stars! by Barner. Again, very nice illustrations – this is a pretty children’s book. I find the words don’t have a rhythm and rhyme – it seems like they want to, but it just doesn’t flow well, so it’s not as enjoyable to read aloud as I wish it were.
  • Fancy Nancy Sees Stars. This book is a nice lead into a planetarium field trip, as it tells a story of a class going on a similar field trip. (It gets a little bogged down in telling a story of how the rain is so bad they can’t get to the planetarium on the designated night, so I might skip / summarize a few pages.)
  • Zoo in the Sky: A Book of Animal Constellations. This book has beautiful illustrations, and nice text about the tales related to the constellations that are named after animals. It also works well for younger children.


Make a Constellation Viewer


An easy and cheap science project for preschool – first grade kids (age 4 – 7) is to make a constellation viewer with a toilet paper tube. I’ll describe and illustrate our method here, but add notes below about my sources and about variations you could try.

Prep: print out these constellations: Note: they’re a little smaller than you want, so what I did was copy the image, paste it into a document and made it as big as I possibly could while still having them fit on the paper (i.e. 9.7 x 8.1 inches)

  1. On a black piece of paper (yellow in these pictures): Trace a circle around the fat end of a plastic cup.
  2. Cut out the black paper circle.
  3. Choose and cut out a constellation.
  4. Glue the constellation to the paper.
  5. Optional: cut slashes in paper to help it fold down better.
  6. Use a thumbtack to poke holes where stars are. (It helps to put the paper on top of cardboard or Styrofoam so you can poke through the paper into that surface.)
  7. Put disc on top of tube, fold paper down, hold with rubber band
  8. Tape paper down and tape label on.
  9. Look through viewer at light.
  10. You can also shine a flashlight through the viewer to project the constellation image on the wall.

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Last year, we used a slightly different method. We taped squares of black paper onto the tube, then laid the constellation pattern on top of that, punched holes through the black paper, and removed the pattern.


Sources consulted:

Ours are pretty similar to Momma Owl’s. I like that they made a collection of tubes with a variety of constellations and kept them together in a shoe box for later use.

Kids Activities Blog just had square constellation cards to hold in front of the tube. disk

I think you could make black disks with handles shaped like this that you could hold in front of the tube or use on a flashlight for interchangeable constellations. Then you could keep them together on a string or keychain like this constellation keychain from Nature Watch.

On Inna’s Creations, they made a telescope and stand with toilet paper tubes. Rather than mounting a constellation permanently, they made caps that can be taken on and off the viewer. I loved that idea. They glued a photo of a planet on the cap but you could easily do the punched out constellations instead.

I bet you could also make a homemade version of this constellation viewer kit that has multiple constellations on a rotating disk.

A key thing to remember when making constellation viewers. For the projection to be accurate when you look through the tube at the bottom of the paper, you need to punch the holes so that when you look at it from the top, you see a mirror image of the constellation. So, either use constellation patterns that are reversed (as the ones I linked to above are… they are a mirror-imaged version of these constellation patterns)

If for some reason you want to use constellation patterns that are not mirror imaged, then just tape them onto the tube with the white constellation pattern facing down, and the black paper facing up.

Planets and Space Travel – Science for Kids


We’ve learned about Gravity, our planet, Earth, and on our field trip to the Bellevue College planetarium, we learned about stars and constellations that we observe from Earth. This week we learned about the planets in our solar system and about space travel.

Crafts – Building Scientific Models

Orbital Models: We wanted the kids to create a model where they could see how the earth orbits the sun, and the moon independently orbits the earth. We had three ideas for how to do this, and ended up putting out the supplies for all three options on the table, and some kids / parents got creative and came up with even more ways to model this.

You could:

  1. print this template, color in the earth and sun, cut it apart, assemble it with brads
  2. Use a large paper plate for the sun, a small paper plate for the earth, and the bottom of a Dixie cup or a small circle of paper to represent the moon. Decorate them, then cut two long strips of cardstock. Connect the earth to the sun, the sun to the moon.
  3. Use a CD for the sun, a juice can lid for the moon, and a bottle cap for the moon.

Once you’ve assembled the model, kids can explore how the earth orbits the sun, and the moon orbits the earth.

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(Note: I don’t know the original source of this idea – it appears all over Pinterest – just search for “sun moon earth model” to see several samples.)

Orbital Mechanics Wand

Supplies needed:

  • big Styrofoam or soft rubber ball, to represent a planet
  • small Styrofoam ball, rubber ball, or Christmas ornament, to represent a moon
  • string to represent the pull of gravity
  • dowel, skewer or pencil
  • tape and scissors.
  1. Poke the skewer (or pencil) into a large ball.
  2. Tie a string to the smaller ball.
  3. Then tie the string firmly to the skewer – slide it up close to the planet. Tape in place so it can’t rotate.

You have created a model of a simple planetary system like Earth’s – with one planet and one satellite moon. Try twirling the small ‘Moon’ around the larger Planet on your wand. Observe how, as it draws closer, the moon travels faster around the planet. This is one of the basic principles of Gravity and Orbital Mechanics that every astronaut knows and is an example of Centripetal Force.

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Science Inspired Art Projects

Martian surface. Kids could trace around a lid from a large tub to make a circle on cardstock, then paint it with Mars goo – paint mixed with flour. They could sculpt mountains and craters in the goo. We placed a photo of Mars on the table as inspiration.


Phases of the Moon: Kids could also use textured paint (paint mixed with flour) to paint the phases of the moon on cardstock (include a poster at the station to illustrate the phases). They can use the end of a straw to make “craters.”

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I also really like the idea from Mrs. Myer’s kindergarten, to have the kids work collaboratively on BIG paintings of the phases of the moon.

Jet Packs: Search online for home-made jetpacks and you’ll find lots of ideas. Our basic design was: take a clean, dry plastic bottle (juice bottle, 2 liter soda, whatever) or two (if two, you’ll want to strap them together). Fill with bits of Poly-Fil. Put the lid on, then tape crepe paper flames (or felt flames) to the bottom of it. Take bias tape or other strings. Lay them on one side of the bottle in an X shape and tape it on. Decorate, adding buttons and such. Then tie on by putting it on the child’s back, and crossing the ties across the chest.

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You could also make jet packs or walkie talkies or other “space gear” by covering cardboard boxes with foil and decorating.

Solar System Crowns. Cut long strips of black card stock. Measure them to fit around a child’s head with a small gap in the back. Have kids cut out paper suns to glue in the center. Then glue 8 (or so… ) glass “stones” on to represent the planets. After the glue dries, punch holes in the ends of the band, and tie a string between them so the child can wear it as a crown. We used tacky glue for this project, which works but takes a long time to dry. A hot glue gun would be faster. (Read Teacher Tom’s thoughts on allowing young children to use hot glue guns.) Note that we had a poster of the solar system and a diagram of the solar system out for information and inspiration.


Solar system: this year, we couldn’t find the large heavy black cardstock to make these into crowns, so we just had out big blue paper and stones… kids made some great solar systems with parent’s help.


Comet Streamers: We put out wooden rings and plastic ribbon so they could tie on streamers and make a fun toy to run and play with.


Rockets: We made rockets with card stock. (Click here for a printable rocket template to cut out and assemble. PDF also includes a pattern for making a rocket with craft foam)


You shape these rockets around a film canister, but then take the film canister out. Note: you can use these paper rockets with Alka-Seltzer rockets and launch these up 10 – 20 feet in the sky, but it will soak / ruin your paper rocket in the process… see details here.

Creation Station: We always have a collage station available in the corner with lots of fun recycled materials, tape, and glue where kids can build anything they want. Here’s one student’s rocket ship that she created on a whim.


Melted Crayon Art: Cover a griddle with foil, lay paper on top of the heated griddle, and draw with crayon – the wax melts on to the paper. The art inspiration is the book Going Around the Sun: Some Planetary Fun, which I review here. Ideally, we’d make space backgrounds, like in the book, then make colorful planets to place on those backgrounds.

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Model Magic Planets – another project we considered was

Science Activity: How much would you weigh on the moon: Kids were encouraged to weigh themselves on a bathroom scale, then look up on the chart how heavy they would be on the moon and on Mars. We also discussed this idea in circle. This was interesting to our older kids (6 and up) who have some grasp of what “5 pounds” feels like vs. what “60 pounds” feels like. But, way too abstract for little ones, really.

Sensory, Puzzles and Games – In the sensory tub, we had red Kinetic Sand for “the surface of Mars.” We just put in toy cars with good treads to leave marks. Even better would be Mars Rovers, like these from Hot Wheels or LEGO, though it might take a lot of work to clean all the sand out of the Lego. We put out multiple Solar System jigsaw puzzles, And the Goodnight Moon Game which is a simple preschool level ‘match the card to the picture on the board’ game.


Snack – Kids make something that looks like planets. You could use English muffins split in half that they spread on whipped cream cheese and swirl in food colors. Or make pizza planets on the English muffin. Or decorate round sugar cookies with frosting.

Or just serve the rocket shaped cheddar crackers and the star shaped yogurt-covered cookies from Trader Joe’s.

Opening Circle

Song: Zoom Zoom Zoom (here’s a video of librarians teaching the song)

Zoom Zoom Zoom, we’re going to the moon.
Zoom Zoom Zoom, we’re going to the moon.
If you want to take a trip, climb aboard my rocket ship.
Zoom Zoom Zoom, we’re going to the moon.
In 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1, Blast Off!

Verse 2: Fun Fun Fun, we’re going to the sun

Verse 3: Far, Far, Far, we’re going to the stars

Question of the Week: Each week, we post a Question of the Week (or more than one) on the board. I define the question this way: When the youngest child in the class walks out today, they should be able to answer this question in at least a basic way. Our questions this week were: What is a planet? What is a moon? What is a solar system? The very simple answers are: Planets are worlds that orbit (go around) a star, like our Sun. A moon is like a mini planet that orbits around other planets, like our moon orbits the Earth. A solar system is made up of all the planets and other things (moons, asteroids, comets and such) that go around a star.

Tool of the Week – Models: Each week we have a featured tool. This is often something we’re using in activities, such as a screwdriver, a hammer, or a magnifying glass. This week, in circle we wanted to talk about the idea of Models, and how scientists build models to better understand things:

  • If something is too small to see (or to see well), we may make a model of it. (We reminded them of how we used Duplo blocks and our bodies to symbolize molecules in our states of matter lesson a few weeks ago.)
  • If something is very big or very far away it may be hard to conceptualize it and how it relates to other objects. Having a model can help.
  • When we want to build something complicated and expensive, we may first build a small “scale model” – a miniature version. This lets us test our ideas and problem-solve before we spend a lot of time and expensive materials on building the full-size version. (You could mention that there were lots of models built of spaceships as they worked on the design of what would eventually be launched into space.)

We demo’ed our orbital model, and our orbital mechanics model (see above.)

Night and Day: We turned on a lamp, and said it was the sun. We told them Teacher Cym was the earth, and we were all little people standing on her nose. She rotated to show them when the people saw the sun it’s daylight, but when she turns around, her nose is in her shadow, and it’s night-time for the people standing on her nose. After she demo’ed a few rotations, we had the kids do it. I think our 5 – 7 year olds understood the concept. Our 4 year olds had fun turning around, our 3 year olds didn’t get it at all.

Lunar phases: You could use a flashlight, a large Styrofoam ball and a small Styrofoam ball to demonstrate how the sun’s light (the flashlight) shines on the moon and what we can see from Earth. If you do this, here’s some recommendations: one – put a pushpin or something on the Earth to represent “where we’re standing.” First have a child just hold the flashlight shining at the earth. Rotate the Earth around to show whether it’s day or night where we’re standing. Then have another adult hold the moon and move that around the earth, and talk about what the moon looks like from where we’re standing. This is a tricky demo to manage the physical logistics of, so practice it in advance.

Or you could use the exercise described in the online teacher’s guide for Faces of the Moon. (See below.)

We talked some about space travel, and we ended by reading Roaring Rockets. (see below) Something for us older teachers to remember… most of the parents in our classes weren’t alive for the lunar landings, and most of our students weren’t alive when the space shuttle was flying. I’d love a young kids book on the Space Station or some of the private programs that are now working on space flight.

Pretend Play / Large Motor Activity

Rocket Ship: We set up a climber to be a rocket ship. (You could cover the mats in fabric to look more like a planet surface and less like blue gym mats.)

Mission Control: We had a variety of equipment set out on tables: joysticks, steering wheel and pedals from a driving video game, headphones, phones, keyboards, etc. We explained that some kids could pretend to be Mission Control on Earth while others went to space in the spaceship. (Click on the picture for a bigger image.)

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Dress-Up Items: We set next to the climber a collection Space Helmets and a couple space suits (tabards with flattened aluminum pans on them.) They could also wear their jet packs they had made.


Moon Walking: We had large sponges (like you use to wash a car.) Rubber band them onto kids’ feet, then have them walk – it feels odd – maybe like ‘walking on the moon.’

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Closing Circle

Solar System: We showed them an orrery – a 3-D model of the Solar system that shows relative sizes and orbits of the planets. Ours was this inexpensive kit from Amazon – the dime is in the picture to give you a sense of scale (note: if you get one of these, be sure to pay very careful attention to which length of metal pin each planet gets mounted on – if you get it wrong, it’s hard for them to orbit past it each other properly.)  This is for display only, as it tends to fall apart if three year olds pick it up and turn it upside down.


Planet Models: I have some model planets I made of Model Magic long ago. I brought them along for hands-on experiences during closing circle. They’re little (notice the dime for scale) and squishable so I had to tell the kids to be careful holding them and modeled how to hold them in their open palms, not squeezing them between fingers.


Book: We read Space Walk by Yoon, a nice simple lift-the-flap overview of the solar system with basic rhymes about each planet. In the morning class, we had some kids missing due to illness, so we happened to have exactly 8 kids. I gave each a clay planet. When it came to “their page” in the book, they showed everyone their clay planet, then gave it to me, then lifted the flap to learn about the planet. (In the afternoon class, we had more kids than planets, so did NOT hand out planets to anyone.)

Planet exploration: We used the orrery and the clay planets to talk about each planet – which is biggest – which is smallest – which is closest to the sun – which would be hottest – or coldest – which have rings. This is just to practice observation and categorization.

Dance Party: We got the comet streamers we’d made out (and we had extras for anyone who didn’t make one). We put on this YouTube video of Zoom Zoom and danced around, singing along and waving our comet streamers.  The video adds in this chorus: We can have a party on the stars with Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. Jupiter might just sing a tune, with Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

More Books


As always, I’ll give affiliate links for the books I recommend – the link allows you to easily go to Amazon, learn more and read reviews. (If you buy anything, I receive a small referral fee. But really, I recommend that you get books from your local library whenever possible!)

Space Travel:

  • Roaring Rockets by Mitton. A nice circle time book for ages 2 – 5, with simple rhyming text and a very basic intro to space travel.
  • I Want to Be an Astronaut by Barton. Another simple preschool book on space travel – frankly I like Roaring Rockets better because there’s a rhyme and rhythm to that book, which is lacking in Barton’s text. But again, another good illustration of the very basics of space travel.
  • Floating in Space by Branley – of the Hayden Planetarium. If you have a 5 – 8 year old who really wants to learn more about space travel, this is a good book for reading one-on-one, but way too long and detailed for use in class.
  • Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me by Eric Carle is a lovely bedtime book with Carle’s great trademark art style but it’s definitely fantasy not science.
  • Happy Birthday, Moon by Asch. Another gentle “bedtime-style” book where Bear imagines having conversations with the moon (really an echo). I read both these books to my son when he was three and again when he was five. At five he gets that you can’t climb a ladder and reach the moon and that the moon doesn’t talk to you and give you presents. But he still enjoyed these books, partially due to his delight in understanding that he has a more sophisticated understanding of how the universe works than these characters do.
  • Mousetronaut by astronaut Mark Kelly starts with a true story of mice aboard the space shuttle, but then moves into fiction. Fine read.

Solar System: There are many series of non-fiction books about planets, all of which have 8 books, with titles like “The Moon” or “Jump to Jupiter” or “Ringed Giant – the planet Saturn.” Go to your library, flip through them – see which series is best for your audience.

Books on Day and Night and Moon Phases

  •  Day and Night by Storad. Really nice explanation for 3 – 5 year olds. “Did you know we live on a moving planet? As the earth turns, it changes from day to night. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west…. Night is here. The moon rises. Some night we see a half moon…” Simple text, clear ideas, good photos.
  • Faces of the Moon by Crelin, ill. by Evans. Poetic text: “The moon’s first phase, we call it NEW – when Moon’s between the Sun and you. Her sunlit side is turned away, and we can’t see her, night or day” followed by a brief timing note: “New Moon rises and sets with the sun.” Illustrations are great, with a graphic design where cut-outs in each page show the phase of the moon. (See below.) The text is best for age 5 – 8, but I can see using the illustrations with younger children. Would be a great companion to a moon journal project. Includes an online teachers’ guide with a really nice group activity that models the phases of the moon by having a lamp in the center of the room to represent the sun and a Styrofoam ball on a stick to represent the moon. The child’s face is where they are on Earth. The child holds the moon in front of them, then they turn around (as the Earth does) and see how the light shining on the moon changes.

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Take-Home Activity: We sent home a copy of this solar system mobile that kids could decorate, cut out and put together with parents’ help. (Note: making a mobile that balances is kind of an advanced engineering skill… )  It would be best to copy it on 11×17 card stock if that’s possible for you. There’s another solar system mobile here.

Follow-Up / Homework: If you’re homeschooling, and want to follow the Next Generation Science standards, 1-ESS1-1 is “Use observations of the sun, moon, and stars to describe patterns that can be predicted. [Clarification Statement: Examples of patterns could include that the sun and moon appear to rise in one part of the sky, move across the sky, and set; and stars other than our sun are visible at night but not during the day.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment of star patterns is limited to stars being seen at night and not during the day.]”

A nice way to work on this would be with a Moon Journal: using a worksheet, each night (or most nights), take your child outside to observe the moon and draw it out. Over the course of four weeks, they’ll have a very “hands-on” experience of the way the moon changes. During this month, re-read a book on Moon Phases multiple times to help them integrate their new learning. Buggy and Buddy has a nice moon journal here. You may also ask an older child to notice that the details of the moon’s surface are more visible at some points in the moon phase than others. Learn more here:

An Astronaut Birthday Party: Many of these activities could be adapted to a kids’ birthday party. I’d do the pretend play (make a “spaceship”, mission control, and some simple costumes), make jetpacks and paper rockets, then launch a few Alka-Seltzer rockets. With the cake, be sure to serve Astronaut Ice Cream.

Videos and Apps

You would think there would be good planet-themed apps. I haven’t searched recently, but two years ago, when I had a three year old who was wild about the solar system, I searched and searched and didn’t find anything worth bothering with. If you have one you like, add a comment!

Videos are a whole different matter! There’s lots of good ones. My son loved:

And more… these are all toddler / preschool friendly songs about planets:

Gravity – Science for Kids


At this week’s class we talked about Force, Magnets, and Gravity.

Hands-On Exploration of Gravity

Slide: We set up our climber and slide. The slide is a great way to learn about gravity! It’s really easy to slide down, and sliding up just doesn’t work.

Pulley: We mounted a pulley on the slide, a callback to when we studied Simple Machines last quarter. They could clearly see that if they filled the basket up top, and then let go of the rope, gravity would carry it down to the ground with no effort on their part. If they wanted to raise the basket back up, they had to work (use force) to haul it back up.

Gravitational Impact Testing: Next to the slide, we placed a tub full of Kinetic Sand. (Last year, we had it in a tub on a drop cloth. This year, we put the sand inside a gallon ziplock… but, of course, we had a child open the ziplock, so we probably had the same amount of spillage with both methods.) We put out a wide variety of light and heavy objects. Kids climbed to the slide platform, then dropped an object into the sand to see if it left a mark, what shape the mark was, and how deep the impact crater was. (Safety pointer: kids on the ground love to look at the craters, and lean over for close examination – it’s important that the kids on the platform know to wait for all heads to be clear before they drop the next object! None of our objects were heavy enough to injure, but they might have stung if they hit someone.)

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Marble mazeIMG_20151212_131922536These building toys offer great tinkering opportunities. Kids build, notice problems, re-build, test, decide to re-build to make it taller, and so on. I especially like our set, which is from Discovery Toys, because it includes a gravity well, a launch track where you can load 6 – 12 marbles, then dump them in all at once, and other fun details.

I did learn something important – I’d originally put this on a table top so it would be easy to build and watch the marbles roll down. But, what I hadn’t taken into account was that for small children, it was then hard to reach the top to drop a marble in. So, the kids climbed on the table to reach the top! (OK, it was my kid was doing that… )  So, we moved it to the floor.

This year, we moved the marble maze into the water tub, and let kids pour water beads and water through it. They’ve played with the marble maze before, and played with water beads, so it was fun to combine the two.

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Magnetic ball wall: Based on that standard children’s museum activity, this marble maze is a DIY project (learn how here) using PVC pipes mounted on magnets, stuck to metal oil drip pans, and shooter marbles to run through it. Again, it’s a great tinkering toy – especially because after you finally get everything lined up just right, you’ll run three or four marbles through successfully, then marble #5 bumps something just slightly out of alignment and a marble gets stuck, or marble #6 really knocks it out of line and marbles fall and you have to re-build. We also set up the maze pieces on our metal slide (see photo in magnet post.)


Gravity well: At many science museums and children’s museums and such, they have a donation bucket where you drop a coin in and it circles around and around and around before finally spiraling down. (The gravity pulls the ball down, but the momentum of the spin slows that fall.) This is an example of centripetal force, as it spins in toward the center.

We invented a mini gravity well with a colander and a shooter marble. You could just use those two items – we added a rubber mat into the center to make it more obvious when it reached the center (because the sound stops as well as the motion). Kids have to learn how to hold it and move it just right to get the ball to spin, so it’s also a chance to learn a new motor skill. Check it out:

Art – Salad Spinner. Prep – cut circles of paper, fill squirt bottles with paint. In class: kids place paper in bottom of spinner basket. Squirt some paint in the middle of the paper. Put the lid on and spin it! Centrifugal force pushes the paint toward the outside of the paper.

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Building Project: Centrifugal Force Air Ship

Materials: paper bowls or plastic cups, string, scissors, hole punch, and optional materials to decorate ship with. Plus small “passengers” for the ship – could use pompoms or small plastic animals, or whatever you have.

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  1. Punch holes in the cups or bowls, attach 3–4 lengths of yarn and tie them together.
  2. Fill the ‘ship’ with 5-7 objects as ‘passengers’
  3. Start swinging the ‘ship’ around until it can go over your head and see if you’re able to keep passengers in your Centrifugal Force Ship – “CFS

Note: again, kids are also learning a motor skill with this activity. They had to learn how to start swinging the ship slowly, then faster, then up over their head to keep the pompom in. If you don’t want to have kids build these as a project, it would also be easy to make up a couple before class just for them to play with at outside time.

Learn about the science:

Pendulum painting: I want to do pendulum painting, as described on Handmade Kids Art, Martha Stewart, Growing a Jeweled Rose, Teach Preschool and Science World. I thought it would be a good fit for gravity week, as it ties into centrifugal and centripetal force.

Last week, I made a seismograph for earthquake week. I had an inspiration – could I re-purpose this for pendulum painting this week??

I unfortunately didn’t have time to test the idea before class. When I tested it in class, it failed. I tried to tape over the hole on the bottle while I filled it, and then take off the tape to spin it. At first, the paint was too thick, and wouldn’t come through the hole. But then when I watered it down, it was too thin, and ran out even when the tape was supposedly covering the hole.

I’ll try again next time, when I have time to test it. I think I will build a frame with PVC pipe. I think I will follow Jeweled Rose’s lead and will use a Gatorade bottle or water bottle with a sipping lid – the kind that you can push closed and pull open. Then I can cut the bottom off the bottle, mount it on the pendulum, and refill it as we go along.

Circle Time

After the children have had time to explore all the activities, we gather for circle to give them the conceptual framework of the day, then we send them out to explore all the activities again, with these new ideas.

Big Idea: The key ideas I wanted to convey were that gravity is an invisible force. You can’t see it, but you can see how it affects other things. Gravity pulls toward the center of the earth, so when you drop things, they fall down. You can use energy to jump into the air, but then gravity pulls you back to the ground. (In the Next Generation Science Standards, gravity appears in third grade, under 3-PS2-1, where it simply notes “assessment is limited to gravity… as a force that pulls objects down.”)

Song: We had sung a fun song to the tune of Have you Ever Seen a Lassie for Magnet week, so I wrote a gravity song to that tune. On Magnets, we swayed left and right when singing the words “this way and that way.” For this song, we stood up. When it said “pull this way” we crouched down, and when it says “not that way”, we stood on our toes.

Well, you’ll never see gravity, gravity, gravity
But you can see gravity pull this way, not that.
Chorus: Pull this way, not that way, pull this way, not that way.
You can see gravity pull this way, not that.
You toss up a ball, gravity makes it fall
Oh, you can see gravity pull things to the ground.
You throw up a gown, gravity brings it back down
Oh, you can see gravity pull things to the ground.

There’s an alternate gravity song here.

Discussion: I started this circle with the discussion described in the Force post, where I set a block on the table, and asked if I could move it with my mind, or order it to move. The kids guided me through applying force by pushing and pulling. Then, I asked “What if I want to move the block to the ground? Do I have to hold it in my hand and PUSH it down to the ground? Now? I can just nudge it over the edge and it will fall down?? Why? Yes, there’s an invisible force called gravity that pulls things to the ground, or as close to the ground as it can get. When the block was on the table, it was trying hard to get to the ground, but it couldn’t pass through the table, so it laid on the table. When I hold it up in the air like this, then let go, it can pass through the air, so it falls down to the ground.

Book: Then I read I Fall Down (see below) which includes several demos like tossing balls, keys, and more up in the air and watching them fall back down, having a dropping race, first with a penny and a block, then with the block and a feather, then using a bar of soap and a dry sponge to show that things fall at the same rate, but that heavier things fall harder and you feel that harder impact on your hand.

Optional demo: You could tie a whiteboard eraser (or other soft object with a little mass) to a string, and spin it over your head. Explain that you’re the earth, the eraser is the moon, and the string is the force of gravity that prevents the moon from escaping earth’s orbit.


    • I Fall Down is another fabulous book by Vicki Cobb. It does a great job of clearly explaining to 3 – 6 year olds the basics of gravity with lots of hands-on examples of experiments they can do with materials they have at home.
    • Gravity Is a Mystery by Branley. A good option for 6 – 8 year olds. It has enough detail that it might be better to use as a second or third book about gravity, not the first introduction. It goes into details like that gravity pulls you toward the center of the earth, what would happen if you dug a hole through the earth, and about how much gravity there is on other planets.
    • What Is Gravity? by Trumbauer. Ages 3 to 5, good photographs, situations that are relatable for kids like going on a swing or sliding down a slide or apples falling from trees. Conveys basic concept that things that go up come back down because of gravity and that heavier things are pulled on more by gravity. Does not address pull toward earth.  A really solid read-aloud non-fiction for preschool – just not as good as I Fall Down.
    • Why Can’t I Jump Very High? A Book About Gravity by Prasad. Best for 8 – 10 year olds. Really wordy, and covers a LOT of concepts: starts with kids asking why they can’t jump higher in basketball. Covers gravity on earth, gravity on the moon, Aristotle and Newton, drop tests, air resistance and friction.
    • Gravity by Chin. This is a picture book. It has beautiful illustrations and really sets a tone and mood. There are just a few words on each page – the complete words in the main text of the book are: “Gravity makes objects fall to Earth. Without gravity, everything would float away. The moon would drift away from the Earth. The Earth would drift away from the sun. Luckily, everything has gravity. Massive things have a lot of gravity and their gravity pulls on some other things. Gravity keeps the earth near the sun, the moon near the earth, and makes objects fall to earth.” Then on the last two pages of the book, there’s additional info on gravity, mass, weight, and that gravity is weaker with distance.

Preview or Review Videos: Intro to force and gravity: Schoolhouse Rock on gravity: Search on YouTube for Bill Nye gravity. There’s also a Sid the Science Kid on gravity… find the transcript here – just click on “full text” –

Follow-Ups: For “homework” – here are some things parents could do with their kids to reinforce the ideas learned in class.

  • Talk about what would happen if there was no gravity.
  • Perhaps watch videos that show astronauts floating in space, and talk about what that would be like. (Go to YouTube and search for “NASA zero gravity”).
  • Play with dropping objects to show that they fall at the same rate… if kids notice that feathers or flat pieces of paper fall slowly, then discuss that this is due to them being caught on air currents, not because gravity works differently for them.
  • Look for more gravity ideas here:



Magnets – Science for Kids


This week at Inventors’ Lab, we studied force, gravity, and magnets. All of these are easy to explore hands-on, and AFTER the kids have had a chance to explore them, we talk about the theory behind what they’ve observed, then give them more chances to test it.

Hands-On Exploration of Magnets

Simple magnets in action: On a table, we had magnets and metal washers where they could play with the bare bones concept of: magnets pick up metal objects.

Magnetic and non-magnetic objects: We had this really cool makeup case with clear plastic walls, which we filled with magnetic and non-magnetic items. Kids could use magnet wands up the side of the case to see which materials a magnet will pick up. If you don’t have the case, water bottles work just fine! Fill them with objects like beans, rice, washers, paper clips, and plastic toys. These were out on a table with magnetic wands.

(Since we had younger kids, we stuck to a simplistic idea that magnets stick to metal. If you have older kids, you might have aluminum cans and steel cans and explain that magnets only stick to some metals – iron, nickel, cobalt, etc.)

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You could also include magnetic and non-magnetic surfaces and decorative magnets to put on them. For example, a magnetized white board, a cork bulletin board, a wood plank, a steel can and a plastic bottle.

Sorting: We had a pie pan full of objects that they could test and then sort into magnetic or non-magnetic.

What materials can magnetic force reach through? Put out paper clips and several containers, made of paper, glass, plastic, ceramic, wood, and so on. If you put a paper clip inside that container, can the magnet still attract it?

Using magnets to attract hidden objects: We filled the sensory tub with rice or lentils, then buried lots of plastic discs with metal rims, mini clothes pins and other objects that magnets would pick up. Kids could stir a magnet wand around in the rice, then lift it up to see what it had attracted.


Exploring magnetic poles: We had a container filled with mineral oil and shredded steel wool. Kids could use a bar magnet with it to observe where the metal lined up – this shows where the poles are on the ends of the magnet. This wasn’t as effective as we’d hoped. You can also buy containers filled with iron filings or with iron filings and sand that allow kids to explore how magnetic fields can move pieces of metal.

More on magnetic poles: Have various magnets that will attract and repel each other, and have a “push-pull” table. Challenge them to find ways to use the magnets to pull toward each other (attract) or push away (repel.) We had one pair of magnets that if you held the round magnet one way, it would pull itself down onto the square magnet, but if you held it the other way, the square magnet would push it away. You can put out two Wooden Train Cars and show that if you push them together one way, they connect… if you push them together the other way, they repel. I also like these science toys where there are disc magnets you mount on a post, and the magnets can “float” above each other. (Note: it’s fun to use the magnet balls with the posts from this toy – they’ll roll in circles around the base, or if you have two of them, they’ll chase each other in circles around the base.)

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Magnet Marbles: We had a big collection of Magnetic Marbles for them to chain together and explore.

Magna-tiles: These clear magnetic building blocks are lots of fun to play with. We often use them on the light table.

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Magnetic poetry – you can put out kids’ magnetic poetry sets for some literacy play.


Art project: You could easily make any art project and mount on a magnet for them to take home and stick on fridge.

You could also make a project where you draw a picture on a paper plate, make a small drawing and put a paper clip or metal brad on it, then use a magnet wand below the plate to pull the object around…. examples of this include making a paper car to drive around a track or make paper ants to move around a plate of “food.” Or make a paper fish, put a magnet strip on it, set it on a piece of blue paper, then use a magnet underneath the paper to move it around.

Experiment exploring magnetic poles – Make Your Own Magnet and/or Compass

Although most of our class’ activity stations are intended for kids to be able to do independently; however, we often have one where we station an adult there to walk kids through a more complicated project or concept exploration. This was our process for this class to help them explore magnets and compasses.

Materials needed: a strong magnet (a weak one like the bar magnet shown in the picture below won’t work to magnetize a paperclip), paperclips, cork rafts like we made in wind week (or other floating object), compass, container of water

  1. Test your magnet: Is it magnetic—will it attract a paper clip?
  2. Test your paper clip: Is it magnetic—will it attract another paper clip?
  3. (optional: Unfold your paperclip.) Take the magnet, rub it down the length of the paperclip, always moving in the same direction, for 40 or 50 strokes. Count out loud to keep track. (This helps all the iron particles in the paper clip line up in the same direction.)
  4. Test your paper clip: Now is it magnetic—now will it attract another clip?
  5. Test your magnet as a compass. Set it on the raft, then spin the raft, and wait for it to stop spinning. Is the north end of the magnet facing north? (Check the compass to see what direction is north.)
  6. Now, test your magnetized paper clip as a compass. Set it on the small raft, then spin the raft. Wait for it to stop spinning. Is the magnetized end pointing north? If not, try rubbing the magnet on it again to recharge the magnetism.

Circle Time

Grounding in Experience: Ask “Before class today, who had used a magnet? Where? What for?” They may talk about refrigerator magnets, magnetic toys, etc. “What do magnets stick to? What won’t they stick to?”

You can also use a magnet and ask them – will it stick to the white board? Will it stick to this wooden desk? Will it stick to the lamp?

Demo: Show two bar magnets that are clearly marked with north and south poles. Show how if you put opposite ends next to each other, they attract – they pull together. If you put matching ends together, they repel, or push away. (You can also demo this with other magnets – it’s great if you have one that’s has a strong enough magnetic field that you don’t even have to touch them together… it can lift another magnet up in the air (levitate it) to pull them together. This relates to Next Generation Science Standard 3-PS2.3Emphasize that magnets can push or pull other magnets.

Song: From To the tune of Did you ever see a Lassie? Have them lean side to side when singing “this way and that”

  1. Did you ever see a magnet, a magnet, a magnet? Did you ever see a magnet pull this way and that?
    Chorus: Pull this way and that way, and this way and that way. Did you ever see a magnet pull this way and that?
  2. On iron and steel, its pull is unreal! Did you ever see a magnet pull this way and that? Chorus
  3. A magnet has action, it’s called an attraction! Did you ever see a magnet pull this way and that? Chorus

Alternate song:

Magnets push, magnets pull
Magnets stick to certain metals – like iron
Magnets can stick to each other
And push each other away
Push and pull, push and pull
That’s what magnets do
Push and pull, push and pull
That’s what magnets do


  • Magnets by Nelson. An easy read-aloud non-fiction book appropriate for preschool kids, age 3 – 5. Clear photographs of items that would be familiar to a young child.
  • Magnets by Royston and Magnets Push, Magnets Pull by Weakland. Nice basic non-fiction overviews, with nice photos and clear examples, appropriate for ages 5 – 7. I prefer Royston, just because Weakland gives some examples (like motors, speakers, and MRI machines) that would be hard for young kids to grasp how they relate to the basics of magnetism we’re talking about in class.
  • What Makes a Magnet? by Branley. For ages 6 – 8. Nice overview, but if you read it, the kids will want to do all the activities described, so be prepared. They include: making a box of miscellaneous items, then tying a magnet on a string and going “fishing”, magnetizing a needle, building a floating compass with the needle and two corks, and a magnetic technology scavenger hunt checklist.
  • Science Experiments With Magnets by Kuskowski, Experiments with Magnets and Metals by Taylor-Butler, and Step-by-Step Experiments with Magnets by Hagler are all aimed at 1st-3rd graders, and all include a good collection of experiment ideas with clear photographic instructions. Any would be fine supplements to class. Kuskowski is my favorite and includes a few experiments that I have not described here.

Demo: If you have recently studied Gravity, this is a fun demo to do, from Buggy and Buddy. Prep: Tie a paper clip to a string, then tie the string to a wood dowel. Make two towers of Duplos as tall as the string is long. Stick a strong magnet to a metal ruler and “bridge” it between the Duplo towers.

Then, in class: hold up the dowel. Ask “where does the paper clip hang?” (Straight down.) “Why?” (Gravity.) Tilt the dowel – “which way does the clip hang?” (Down.) “Can anything pull it back up? I can pull it up with my fingers – that’s using force. Could another force lift it? Magnets can.” Use a magnet to catch the clip and lift it up. Then set the dowel under the Duplo towers. Lift the clip up and hold it under the magnet. The trick here is to make sure your string is exactly long enough that you can hold the clip at a place where the magnet will help it levitate… float in the air without touching the magnet. Explain that magnetic force is holding it up, because when we move the magnet close enough to the clip, its pull is stronger than the pull of gravity.

Optional Group Activities: We poured some items on the floor, then had kids collect them with magnet wands, then sorted and counted what they’d collected.

Then we played with the DIY marble run pieces on the slide. IMG_20151212_160029689

(One of the kids had discovered that they could stick magnets to the slide, which would have never occurred to us!) This was fun for the little ones and the parents who were there, because the kids could climb up the slide and drop marbles down, and the parents could tinker and keep re-adjusting the pipes so the kids would be successful in getting a marble all the way from the top of the maze to the bottom.

We played a magnet game in which we would “switch their poles”. If the teacher said “south pole” they were all attracted toward her and would run toward her, if she said “north pole” they were repelled and moved away. It’s basically red light, green light with a twist….

Follow-Ups: For “homework” – here are some things parents could do with their kids to reinforce the ideas learned in class.

  • Have the child go around the house with a magnet or magnet wand. What does it stick to? What doesn’t it stick to? Why?
  • Sorting games: miscellaneous small items in a dish (or bury in a sensory material like rice or beans). Use a magnet wand to sort into magnetic and non-magnetic.
  • Use magnet wands and jingle bells to make jingle wands.


Community Resources for Science has a nice lesson plan on magnets, which includes tie-ins to the Next Generation Science Standards for third graders.

Magnets first appear in the Next Generation Science Standards in third grade:

3-PS2-3. Ask questions to determine cause and effect relationships of electric or magnetic interactions between two objects not in contact with each other. [… examples of a magnetic force could include the force between two permanent magnets, the force between an electromagnet and steel paperclips, and the force exerted by one magnet versus the force exerted by two magnets. …. how the orientation of magnets affects the direction of the magnetic force.]
3-PS2-4. Define a simple design problem that can be solved by applying scientific ideas about magnets. [… examples include constructing a latch to keep a door shut and creating a device to keep two moving objects from touching each other.]

In my mind, the key ideas I hope my 5 – 7 year old students will leave class with are: Magnetism is an invisible force. We can’t see it, but we can see how it affects other things. Magnets attract ferrous materials (materials containing iron.) Magnets have two poles (north-seeking pole and south); opposite poles attract, same poles repel (push away). A magnetic field can reach beyond a magnet, so a magnet can affect things that are nearby but not touching the magnet.

Safety notes:

Magnets can be hazardous if swallowed. If a child has swallowed multiple magnets, they may need surgery to prevent internal damage. If you are working with young children who might put things in their mouths, use only large magnets, like magnet wands – nothing that could possibly be swallowed.

Very strong magnets can snap together suddenly and pinch skin between them, which is quite painful.

Force – Science for Kindergarten


Amongst the Next Generation Science Standards for kindergarten is K-PS2 Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions. Here is the text for that standard:

K-PS2-1: Plan and conduct an investigation to compare the effects of different strengths or different directions of pushes and pulls on the motion of an object. 

K-PS2-2: Analyze data to determine if a design solution works as intended to change the speed or direction of an object with a push or a pull.

These are the Disciplinary Core Ideas:

  • Pushes and pulls can have different strengths and directions.
  • Pushing or pulling on an object can change the speed or direction of its motion and can start or stop it.
  • When objects touch or collide, they push on one another and can change motion.
  • A bigger push or pull makes things speed up or slow down more quickly.

Every kindergartener already knows all these things. Especially kindergarteners who have been given lots of free play time exploring objects hands-on. They know that they can either push or pull their friends on a wagon. They know that the faster they pull, the faster the wagon goes. They know that when they crash one toy car into another, it shoves the car out of the way. They know that if they want to swing really high, their parent needs to give lots of big strong pushes. They know that they can try to slow down their dog by pulling back on the leash. They know they can close a door gently or push it hard and fast so it slams closed. They know that how well something moves after a push depends on its size, shape, and weight. They have plenty of hands-on experience with these ideas. When we “teach” these ideas, we’re just helping give them vocabulary, and helping them to notice and define what they already know.

The way I structure a science lesson is to first have “discovery time”. I put out multiple activities that allow them to experience the science first. Then I do the formal teaching of the concept and vocabulary. Then, I offer “tinkering time” where they get to explore the idea again, reinforcing the theory they’ve just been taught with the concrete hands-on experience that helps them to understand it and remember it.

We have taught Force as part of our Simple Machines unit, and we have also taught it in conjunction with Gravity and Magnets. Here are a collection of ideas for teaching Force.

For K-PS2-1: compare the effects of different strengths or different directions of pushes and pulls on the motion of an object

  • Attach a string / rope to items and let children pull them around a room. Even better, give them a rope to try tying on to things and seeing what all they can pull.
  • Put out items kids can push – the bigger the better – small kids love moving big things.
  • Sit in a circle. Have one child push a ball to another child. They stop it, then push it to someone else.
  • Play soccer or any other ball game that’s about “pushing” the ball to each other, stopping it, and pushing it back.
  • Put out items kids can crash into each other. For example, set up a ramp and toy cars for a demolition derby, where cars rush down the ramp and crash into whatever is at the bottom of the ramp
  • Tell kids to move around the room and find things that they can push or pull (could be almost any object, but can also be a door, a window shade, zipper, socks, etc.)
  • On the playground: encourage the children to experiment with pushes. On the swings, do they move faster by themselves, or with a few light pushes or with some strong pushes? On the merry-go-round, do they move faster if they push themselves, if one person pushes, or if three kids push? (Option: you can time how long it takes to make a full rotation with each method – see details here.)
  • Play tug of war. First have one side pull while others do not – what happens? Then have both sides pull gently, then both sides pull hard, and so on.
  • Play tether ball, pushing the ball back and forth.
  • Use pipettes or eye droppers to pull liquid in, then push it out.
  • Bowling: set up pins and give them a ball to knock them over. (You don’t need an official bowling pin set – toilet paper roll bowling works just fine.) For a fun bowling variation, try pendulum bowling. Or create a wrecking ball to knock over towers.
  • Scooters: if you have those little Scooter Boards, then have kids pull each other around the room, then push each other, then have two kids sit on scooters right next to each other and push each other. See it:
  • You could also have kids bring their wheeled ride-upons from home: bikes, trikes, scooters, etc. They move their friends around. Friends need to describe whether they are being pulled or pushed.
  • Have pushing races. Have four types of objects and a track with distances marked (could just be a flattened cardboard box with distances marked on it. They can test each of the objects: if they push gently, how far does it travel? What if they push hard? Which object travels the farthest?
  • Offer a worksheet where children can describe whether the illustration shows someone pushing or pulling.

Note: although this standard explicitly says that “assessment does not include non-contact pushes or pulls such as those produced by magnets”, when we teach Force in our magnets class, we do demonstrate and play with these non-contact pushes and pulls. Children as young as 3 are easily able to grasp the idea of pushing and pulling with magnets.

For K-PS2-2: Analyze data to determine if a design solution works as intended to change the speed or direction of an object with a push or a pull.

  • Use a marble maze toy or a ball wall where kids line up pipes and tracks just right to give the ball a path through the maze.
  • Use a cardboard box lid, craft sticks and a glue gun to make marble mazes where kids tilt the box lid back and forth. As gravity pushes the ball, the sticks change its direction of motion.
  • Set up a ramp to roll balls down. At the bottom of the ramp, place various objects – see if the stop or re-direct the ball’s motion when it hit. Directions here.
  • Set up domino chains and knock them down or create other Rube Goldbergs.
  • Use catapults – push on one end to launch items in the air.

Note: although the standard says “assessment does not include friction as a mechanism for change in speed”, we do end up discussing friction during our Simple Machines unit. We cover it when talking about Wheels and Axles. Our 3-4 years olds experience friction but can’t articulate an understanding of it, but our 5 year olds certainly can.

If you’re teaching force as part of a simple machines unit, you want to convey that all simple machines transfer force. They may change the direction and/or the strength of the force. Most simple machines make things easier by allowing you to use less force to do the same amount of work.

Optional Extensions

Michigan’s Grade Level Content Expectations add:

  • describe the position of an object in relation to other objects (above, below, etc.)
  • describe the direction of movement (away, toward)
  • when the motion of an object is changed by a force, the amount of change is related to the mass of the object; when an object does not move in response to a force, it’s because another force is being applied to it

There’s a lot you could do with learning the vocabulary of positions and direction of movement: play games where you ask kids to go behind, above, into, and so on; read books and ask them to describe the positions in the pictures; play Simon Says – “run away from the wall,” “run toward the swings”, “run around the tree.” Give each child a toy, and have them place it in front of them, then behind them, above, etc. Shake the shaker above your head, behind your back, and so on.

Challenge kids to push a wide variety of objects, including some they will not be able to push – a desk that is too heavy for them to move, or a tree that is rooted to the ground. Ask them to make observations about why it won’t move.

Circle Time – Explaining the Theory

I love starting with this idea from Mrs. Meyer’s Kindergarten: Brainstorm all the different ways kids can move: jump, roll, run, fall, etc. Then put out a bucket of items and ask the kids: can those things move by themselves? Kids quickly say that no, those things need help to move. Ask how they would move them: push, pull, throw, drop, etc. Tell them that when we push or pull on something to move it, we are using “force.”

Set a block on the ground in front of you: ask – “can I move it with my mind?” (they all shout no). “Can I move it by just telling it to move?” (No) “How do I move it?” (Use your hand.) Set your hand on it, but don’t push. “How come it’s not moving?” (You have to push it!) “Now it’s too far away from me – how do I get it back?” (Pull it!) Now I want to push it to [name a child]. How do I do that?” (Push it!) Push it gently. “It didn’t go far enough. What do I do?” (Push it harder.) Push it to the child, and have them push it back.

Then ask them “What if it’s really icky, and I want to move it, but I don’t want to touch it?” Talk them through helping you find a stick to push it with, or another solution.

Ask what the difference is between push and pull – push moves an object away from you (where the force is being exerted) and pull brings it toward you.

Sing a song, or read a book.


Here’s a really simple song: and here’s a video which shows it in action, with hand gestures, in a classroom setting:

Try this Push and Pull song to the tune of Row Your Boat… it starts Push, push, push your cart, gently through the store. Fill it full with lots of things, then let’s add some more.

There’s also this song:


And Everyone Shouted, “Pull!” by Claire Llewellyn. Described as a ‘first look at forces and motion’, this is a great read-aloud for ages 3 to 5. It engages them in the story of animals trying to get items to market, and loading up and pulling the wagon.

Give It a Push! Give It a Pull!: A Look at Forces by Boothroyd. For ages 4 – 6. The text is quite good – the graphic design a little cluttery. The big picture ideas it addresses are: A force is a push or a pull. Sometimes the cause of a force is invisible [wind, gravity, magnets]. Forces put things in motion. Stronger forces can make things move farther or faster. Friction is a force that slows things down. Force can change the shape of things.

We have also used Forces Make Things Move by Bradley and Move It!: Motion, Forces and You by Stille.

Here are other books that are recommended for teaching force:

  • Motion, by Darlene R. Stille
  • How Things Move, by Don L. Curry
  • Push and Pull, by Lola M. Schaefer
  • Push and Pull, by Patricia Murphy
  • Push and Pull, by Charlotte Guillain
  • Move it!: Motion, Forces and You, by Adrienne Mason


There is a great full curriculum on forces and motion for kindergarteners at

And another nice lesson plan here:

If you’re teaching older kids about force, inertia, Newton’s laws of motion, there’s lots of great activity ideas in this lesson plan from Lakeshore.