Building a solar system shadow box is a great way to incorporate a hands-on approach to teaching young children about the planets. A solar system shadow box can make an excellent science fair project for early elementary students as well. Shadow boxes are easy to make and do not require expensive supplies. Children can construct a solar system shadow box with very little adult help.
Cut a piece of black construction paper to fit in the bottom of the box. Glue the paper to the bottom of the box to make your solar system background. Let your child decorate the back with small stars cut out of white tissue paper.
Cover the outside of the box with construction paper. Cut letters from different colored construction paper to glue on the outside of the box to spell out your child’s name or “Our Solar System.” Allow your child to write or draw on the outside of the box to decorate it.
Paint different sized Styrofoam balls to represent the planets. Teach your child about how the different planets appear to be different colors because of what they are made of and what kinds of gasses are in their atmospheres.
Have your child paint the rings on Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune or insert a toothpick in each side of the ball and cut doughnut-shaped pieces of construction paper to represent the rings. Fit the rings over the balls and glue or tape them to the toothpicks so they stay in place.
Poke one end of a pipe cleaner or thin piece of wire into the tops of the planets. Bend the pipe cleaner or wire so that it forms an upside-down U shape and poke the other end into the top of the planets to make a hanger like a Christmas bulb.
Tie a piece of dental floss or fishing line to each hanger. Using fishing line is better for projects that use larger Styrofoam balls because it is less likely to break under the weight of the planets.
Stand the box on its side and poke small holes in the top of the box to thread the floss or fishing line through. Tie the string securely so the planets are suspended inside the shadow box. Teach children the correct order of planets starting at the sun and moving outward.
Give children a short lesson in astronomy while you work on the solar system shadow box by letting them create clusters of stars on the background to represent different constellations.