Really? All I can think about is trying to relax while my, generally well-behaved, sproglets run in, out and around the house over the summer holidays.  With school being out, the questions that would usually be fired at their teachers are fired, instead, at me, the all-knowing (mmm) mother. 

The most popular questions this summer have been centred on the children’s place in the world.  I started thinking I needed to get some answers when they kept saying that Fiji was part of New Zealand, the Sun went to sleep when they did and the moon was near the sun.

My answer – let’s do an old-fashioned scooter trip to the local library – my answer for getting them tired as well as educated in one swoop).  The kids were pleased to have a wee adventure – all our outings are called adventures, as you never quite know where we will end up.

The section on the Earth, solar system and the planets at this time of year is, as expected, largely untouched.  So armed (laden down) with five large pictorial books and children happily with library stamps on their hands, we scootered back home to do a bit of creative discovery of our place in the universe.

I decided the best approach to our solar system would be for the kids to see, feel and touch the planets.  Firstly, we chose the best pictures of our solar system and each planet.  We talked about each planet.  Then, out came the playdough (the kids are a tad over that phase of life and I am over picking it out of the floor, but things like playdough have unexpected uses).

playing with planets

The biggest blob of yellow became the sun, then all other planets, in their various shades of colour, were formed and scaled to size.  I took the kids on the journey – Wellington, New Zealand, Australasia, Earth, solar system, so they got to understand how little we are in the scheme of things.  We learnt, together, the names of each planet, what each planet was made up of, the number of moons each planet had, the Roman gods, as well as astronauts and space travel.  Saturn even had a wiggly ring around it.

Towards the end of the session, the kids were happily calling me their new teacher.  A good hour and a half later, with no moans or arguments during that time, we called it a day with promises of volcanoes in the kitchen the next day (amazing what a mix of detergent, baking soda, and vinegar will turn into and the squeals of delight at the frothing mess into the sink).  The kids happily told their surprised dad over dinner that same evening during ‘grateful time’ the names of all the planets and that Jupiter had at least 63 moons.  Not a bad effort thought I.

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Rachel Binning is a full-time jack-of-all-trades who has an extensive background within the health sector. She now wholeheartedly agrees with ex US President, Bill Clinton that “the toughest job in the world isn’t being a president. It’s being a parent”. Rachel juggles being a mum of two active boys with her business, Bella Photography, volunteer work for many and varied organisations that support families, and contributes weekly to community newspapers throughout Wellington.

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I cooked up a Solar System Scale Simulator once. You enter the rough physical size of the Earth (e.g. as big as a marble) and the scale simulator tells you things like the relative size of the Earth, Jupiter, and Pluto, and how far away they would be at that scale. It was heaps of fun. I didn’t rigorously check the calculations, but I think it was ok. If the Earth is 14mm in diameter (roughly the size of a glass marble), then the Sun is 1.52 metres in diameter (a ball large enough for most people to stand inside).… Read more »

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