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Teach Your Child About the Solar System

Children are fascinated by the night sky. It is then that they get an idea of where we live. The millions of stars above are all suns. Some of them no longer exist- having burnt out perhaps millions of years ago, leaving only their image to travel through time and space.

Our own sun is a star as well. Being the closest star to our planet, it has caught us in its magnetic field and holds us in an elliptical path on which we orbit, circling the Sun, along with other planets, asteroids, comets, moons, gases and matter of various sorts. Our sun and everything caught in its energy field is called the Solar System. We circle our sun, whose name is simply The Sun, like clockwork, every 365 and one-quarter days. Our Solar System is located in the Milky Way Galaxy, sometimes called the Galaxy.

Scientists differ on the definition of a planet; hence there is controversy on whether there are 8, 9, 10, 11 or more planets in our Solar System. Children are now being taught there are 8 planets and 4 dwarf planets, listed here in order from closest to the Sun to the farthest away.

The Terrestrial Planets:

  • Mercury
  • Venus
  • Earth
  • Mars

The Outer Gas Giants:

  • Jupiter
  • Saturn
  • Uranus
  • Neptune

The Dwarf Planets:

  • Ceres
  • Pluto
  • Makemake
  • Eris

Each planet has its own unique characteristics. Scientist theorize there may have been life on the planet Mars, but at this time, only Earth hosts life as we know it.

Space exploration has helped us expand our idea of the Universe as a territory so vast that we cannot begin to know its dimensions or true composition. We know that it is composed of space (nothing) and matter (something). But there is so much we do not know. Many of the questions your child will ask may need to remain a mystery.
Our solar system has been studied enough, however, that we can provide some answers as to the makeup, size and movements of the Sun and the planets.

Some basic facts about our sun:

  • The Sun comprises 98 percent of all material in the Solar System.
  • It is a medium sized star, formed around 5 billion years ago.
  • The Sun was “born” when dust and other space matter came together and ignited.
  • The diameter of the Sun is about 864,000 miles, or 1.4 million kilometers.
  • We are 93 million miles, or 150 million kilometers, from the Sun.
  • It takes 8 minutes for the Sun’s energy to reach the Earth.
  • We only get about 1 billionth of the Sun’s total energy.

Some facts about the planets:

  • The planets in our Solar System are held in place by the Sun’s gravity.
  • The planets each have their own orbit duration, depending on their distance from the Sun, so each planet’s “year” differs.
  • Jupiter is the largest planet in our system.
  • Pluto has been reclassified as a dwarf planet.
  • The Earth is the only planet in our system that has water. It covers three-quarters of the Earth’s surface.
  • The planets in the Solar System have a total of 166 moons.
  • Copernicus theorized the planets moved around the Sun (rather than everything revolving around the Earth) about 500 years ago.
  • Galileo invented the telescope about 400 years ago, opening a whole new arena of exploration, and proving Copernicus was correct.

Teaching your youngster about the Solar System will be fun and easy, as their curiosity will generate questions the two of you can explore together. And it is one topic where it is okay to say, “I don’t know! Let’s see what we can find.”


Preschoolers love to look up. The moon is a favorite object for many little ones, its bright face changing all the time. Just standing outside under the night sky and quietly observing together will trigger an instinctual knowing in your child. They will know the stars are farther away and the moon is closer. Let them know that stars are suns similar to ours.
Your child may enjoy having glow in the dark stars and planets decorating their ceiling. Stars and planets are popular decorating themes for children’s rooms. Night clothes and bedspreads can be found with stars and moons.

Kids this age may also enjoy a trip to a planetarium. They won’t understand everything, but will be fascinated by the magnitude and movement of the stars and constellations.

One early connection to our Solar System is the weather. The Earth’s position in relation to the Sun, along with your position on the Earth determines the weather and the seasons. Some children may be intensely interested in the weather and the seasons, which will give you an opportunity to learn more by exploring books and internet sites about the Solar System.

The phases of the moon will not escape your child’s notice. Spend some time finding an explanation you both understand. You may be surprised! This is also a good time to introduce the calendar to your child, which will later be useful when adding to what they know about time, the seasons, and the weather.

For now it is enough to know we have a vital relationship with the Sun and that we live on a planet we’ve named Earth.

Main points to address:

  • All children are fascinated by the moon and stars.
  • Our weather, seasons and how we keep time all hinge on where we are in our Solar System.
  • Young children may enjoy a trip to a planetarium.

Grades K-6th

Young children will begin formally studying the Solar System and our place in it. You can expand on what they are learning by visiting some of the high-quality websites available, a few of which are referenced below.

Camping under the night sky will recreate the wonder of their earliest experiences with the night sky. Take along a flashlight and a book of constellations and see how many you can find!

Some scouting groups work toward astronomy badges and complete learning projects on different aspects of the Solar System. A trip to the library can supplement your child’s research.

As your child grows and is ready for more detailed information on the Solar System, you may want to consider a “Space Camp” where kids have a chance to learn serious science and work on real life projects related to space travel and exploration.

Probably the best resource at this time is the Internet. Spend some time gazing at the Hubble photographs. They will render you speechless. Check out some of the sites that have information and activities geared toward your child’s age group.

If your child has a real passion for the planets, the moon and for space, foster this by creating opportunities to develop his or her interest. Who knows- your youngster may belong to the next generation of space explorers!

Main Points to address:

  • Supplement your child’s learning with trips to the library and exploring some of the excellent sites found on the Web.
  • Camping and scouting may spark your child’s interest in the Solar System.
  • “Space Camp” is a wonderful experience for young astronomers.


Resources that can help you in your venture include:

Posted in Education.

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