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Exploring the Universe! Ideas for Teaching Children about Outer Space

Jul 01, 2022    |   STEM Learning

Young children are natural explorers who are curious to learn about the world around them. They are fascinated by the sky, and wonder about things like the sun, clouds, and stars. They try to figure out how everything works, with questions like  “where do stars go during the day?” These questions and conversations about space offer wonderful opportunities to encourage curiosity and introduce STEM concepts. In this article, we highlight activities and children’s books that help little learners expand their knowledge about outer space. 

The Benefits of Learning About Outer Space 

Teaching children about outer space nurtures their natural sense of curiosity and wonder. Many children are fascinated by the vastness of the universe, and introducing conversations about things like the planets and solar system will engage and nurture their inquisitive minds.

When young children learn about planets and the solar system, it helps them to recognize how precious earth is. For example,  the fact that Earth is the only planet that is known to have water underscores how important water is for all of us.  These types of conversations can reinforce ideas about sustainability and why it is so important to care for our planet. 

Space-related topics can easily be connected to science, math, literacy, pretend play, and other parts of your curriculum. Children can count stars, read books about outer space, and dress up as astronauts. If you are working with older children, talking about space is also a great jumping-off point for other STEM topics. For example, you might use a conversation about the planets to introduce some of the basics of gravity, or a conversation about rockets to introduce physics and engineering. 

Considering Development

Although the concept of outer space can be difficult for young children to fully comprehend, research has found that children are interested in it from a very young age.  In fact, a 2019 study in which parents kept a diary of the conversations they had with their young children, showed that children as young as three years old initiated conversations about the sun, moon, and stars.  Educators who work with toddlers observe the same type of curiosity when children point out clouds and the moon in the sky. 

Children develop at slightly different rates, and are exposed to new topics at different ages. A great way to see what the children in your care understand about outer space is to introduce a few books with stories about space to see how much they know and what questions they have. 

Books & Activities for Learning about Space

Books, videos, and art projects are all great tools for learning about outer space. To introduce this topic, it can be helpful to start with what children are able to see, such as the moon, sun, and stars. From there, you can explore less familiar topics like the planets, the Milky Way, and any other concepts that children are interested in learning more about! Check out the list below to find ideas for children of different ages.

Activities and Board Books for Toddlers

Galaxy-Themed Sensory Activity 

Set up a sensory bin using black beans for the sky and glow-in-the-dark stars. Add play planets (or if these aren’t available, try using different colored pom-poms or bouncy balls) and allow toddlers to enjoy looking at and feeling all of the different items and textures in the bin.

Star Gazing Discovery Bottle

Using recycled water bottles, you can make a galaxy that young children can explore, right in the palm of their hands! These are simple to create, with black glitter glue and star sequins that children can watch move around as they shake up the bottles. Use tape or super glue to keep the bottles sealed tight and safe for little ones to play with.

Ellen: A Bilingual Board Book

This bilingual English/Spanish book explores the sun, moon, and the planets with the help of Ellen Ochoa, the first Latina to travel into space.  The story celebrates the achievements of Ellen Ochoa while introducing little ones to the solar system

Moon: A Peek-Through Board Book

This book includes peek-through holes so that young children can interact with the story. The book shows the moon’s different phases with each turn of the page.

Hello World! Moon Landing

This book is the story of the first moon landing, told in simple, toddler-friendly language with colorful pictures. If the children in your care enjoy this book, they might also like Hello, World! Solar System by the same author. 

Activities and Books for Preschoolers & Pre-K

Story Time from Space Astronaut Videos for Children

This website has free videos of astronauts reading children’s books from their stations in outer space. There are a variety of books read by different astronauts. The story shared here is Give me some Space by Philip Blunting, and read by Shannon Walker (PH.D.), a NASA Astronaut.

Balloon Stamping Solar System Art Project

This art activity uses unusual items to help young children create a painting that looks just like outer space. Balloons dipped in mixed colors of tempera paint become stamps that children can use to place colorful planets onto a black construction paper sky.

Luna Muna: Outer Space Adventures of a Kid Astronaut

This sweet and sparkly book tells the story of a young girl who dreams of going to outer space. The book includes easy-to-follow language to describe what life is like for an astronaut living in outer space.

Moon! Earth’s Best Friend

This book puts a unique spin on learning about the moon, by telling a story about the moon’s friendship with Earth. The story tells how Moon never turns her back on her friend (she’s always facing Earth with the same side!) and points out that the two will be together forever.

Pete the Cat: Out of This World

Pete the Cat lovers will enjoy this story of adventures in space camp. The book follows Pete as he learns what life is like as an astronaut and what kinds of things he would see if he went to outer space.

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