Solar System Exploration

This past Monday we started the day off by watching a National Geographic Kids video. The video demonstrates how plants orbit around the sun and briefly described the characteristics of each planet. Questions raised by the video were used as journal prompts to encourage individual research. 

Later on in the day, a handful of the students decided to draw visual representations of the entire solar system. Their desire to represent their knowledge in a different way, or “language,” is something we strive for at Little Wonders.

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A hearing that some of the Earth’s features were formed by lava, one student began studying a nearby globe and asked where he could find lava. A teacher suggested that he research to see if lava is on other planets too. The student discovered that Venus, Mars, and the innermost of Jupiter’s moons also have lava, just like Earth. The topic of volcanoes and worlds formed by lava greatly intrigued him.

After watching the video, one of the children chose to write in his journal about Jupiter. While watching a supplementary video on Jupiter, he discovered that one of its largest moons is actually larger than the planet Mercury. This discovery prompted a discussion of how planet sizes in the solar system compare with each other. The teacher then pulled up a graphic comparison, which showed the differences in planet and moon sizes. A few of the children wanted to continue this investigation and watched a section of the video “The Powers of Ten” to better understand the relationships of distance and size within the solar system. 

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The next day we began with a group meeting to reflect on what we learned about the solar system. We recited the largest plants to the smallest planets and discussed how Pluto is no longer considered a planet, discussed the concept of heliocentricity (planets revolving around the sun), and each child described each planet’s colors and geographical features. We discussed the differences between terrestrial and gas planets and between stars and planets. In the midst of this conversation, one child asked. “How far away are the planets?” In order to answer this question, we played the video “The Powers of Ten” for the rest of the class. According to the description, “every ten seconds we view the starting point from ten times farther out until our own galaxy is visible only a s a speck of light among many others.” The students were fascinated by the amount of time it took to go from Earth to the gas giants, and they were even more surprised when the video depicted the sun itself as a mere speck. As the video continued to zoom out, the students asked about other stars and their sizes and the amount of time it would take to reach them. The children recognized the Milky Way, but referred to it as a giant cloud, with some students mentioning that we “live” in it.

The students enjoyed seeing the screen zoom out and one student asked if we could zoom out far enough to see God. Another child continued that thought and asked if it was even possible to see God. Although the line of questioning was not pursued further, the teachers found it interesting that once again students included a metaphysical concept in their discussion of space. It seems that contemplating vast distances and sizes pushes students recall the edge of their understanding, which in some cases are concepts of a supreme designation, such as God or heaven.

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This activity shows how children naturally want to learn and it highlights benefits of child-led curriculum. Many parents assume that children have to be taught in order to learn, but we believe that children naturally desire to learn and want to expand their knowledge of the world and the materials in it. The timeline of this project started at a simple video, progressed into a journal entry, and continued to progress into a discussion about God, space, travel, and time. We don’t believe this investigation in planets and space is over with either, based on their continued interest. 

During this process, the children worked on various skills and abilities. We learned about science concepts like gravitational pull, space, density, planets, the moon, the sun, stars, size, length, and width. The children also worked on reading, writing, retelling, adjectives, and building a vocabulary. Lastly, the children explored thought-provoking subjects and developed their fine motor skills and social skills. This activity also highlights the role of the teacher in the student’s lives. We aim to acknowledge, model, facilitate, and support the children in the process of learning .  

“The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of the mind for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards.”
– Francoise Anatole Thibault

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