Outer space is one of those subjects that can be overwhelming because there is just so much cool and interesting information to learn. One of my Rascals requested to learn about the moon and space, so I put together a dynamic lesson covering the very basics and we had so much fun!
We started by reading a classic with a twist. In regular instruction for my own kids we incorporate Spanish language learning daily, so we happen to own a copy of Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown in Spanish. I thought it would be interesting to introduce some basic Spanish vocabulary and phrases to my Rascals, and they loved it. I focused on learning “moon” (luna) and “good night” (¡buenas noches!) as well as “stars” (estrellas). They really enjoyed hearing a story they knew so well in a different way. While I am not a fluent speaker, I am well able to read children’s stories correctly and I’m really happy with how this lesson went. I think I’ll be incorporating more Spanish vocabulary into Rascal lessons going forward.
I decided to save myself some time and effort in creating original material and purchased a “teach my preschooler” kit about outer space based on the good reviews it received. I found it on sale and I must say, I only had one complaint about it that had nothing at all to do with the content- which was just what I wanted for my group of 3-4 year olds. The kit came with a poster showing a simple layout of our solar system (very easy to study and decipher) as well as a small book with basic identifying information about each planet- including Pluto- and a linear puzzle that, when assembled, puts the planets in order from the sun. The planets on each puzzle piece are also able to be removed to show the planet name underneath, thus creating a puzzle within a puzzle. [My complaint with the kit is that the linear puzzle pieces seemed to have warped into a curve slightly and so the puzzle doesn’t lay flat, which was really frustrating for my preschoolers- and me!] The kit also came with flashcards showing the planet in illustration form on one side and the name in basic manuscript on the other. We used this kit in so many ways today! First, we read the book. For each planet, we used our bodies to demonstrate its features. For instance, when we read about Neptune we waved our arms in the windy atmosphere and we made our bodies as big as we could when learning about Jupiter, the biggest planet of all.
After we finished reading the book, we studied the poster, pointing out each planet and counting its place in the order of the solar system. The poster isn’t too big, but just the right size for a small group study with enough detail to easily identify each planet. We came back to the puzzle and flashcards later to reinforce what we learned.
Since the same group of Rascals attends our class almost every time, I wanted the kids to have a bag of their own to bring so they can safely transport home whatever art or project they create while here. Kind of like a school bag! I thought today would be a fun day for this project, so we used neon puffy paints and some cheap paintbrushes and cookie cutters. I pre-wrote their names on the bags so they’d be dry and neat by the time the kids decorated. They had a good time choosing colors and getting creative. I made sure to do this in the beginning of our time today so the bags had enough time to dry a little before they needed to be moved to go home. We brought the poster with us to The Big Table and used it as inspiration for swirly planets and color choices. We practiced holding paintbrushes properly, taking turns, using encouraging words with friends and classmates, setting personal boundaries and respecting others’ space, and other necessary social skills involved when working within a group. These kids have a pretty fun relationship going, but being three is hard sometimes and they made an obvious effort today to be kind to each other while being firm about their own autonomy as well. Generally, I try to let these kids work things out among themselves, sometimes offering word or phrasing guidance to help them communicate more effectively with each other, and sometimes serving as a pure referee, but today it was awesome to watch them use their skills so well with each other. There were lots of manners, but also lots of respect when a friend said “No.”
These kids love painting and art, so while I readied a watercolor activity I passed out black construction paper, simple star stickers and white chalk for the kids to freehand create galaxy collages. Chalk is a fun medium to use: the diameter is similar to common writing instruments to reinforce grip position but it has a different texture and leaves different kinds of marks on surfaces. I had prepped another painting project using salt, glue and watercolors the night before for them to explore when they finished their bags while I prepped snack. They thought it was really cool to have “bumpy pictures” and watch the watercolor spread across the salt tracks. This was so easy and the continued practice with paintbrushes for grip strength and early writing skills was an added bonus. The science of the interaction between the watercolor and the salt made for a quieter-than-usual activity as they carefully watched the colors. We talked about the sounds some letters make, specifically the letters that begin each child’s name. Each child had a picture with their personal first initial to work on. Another reason I love watercolors is the specific order in which they must be used- paintbrush to water, then paint, then paper- otherwise the colors will not be as vibrant or the brush will be too dry. I think learning to do an ordered skill like this is important for later applications, like tying shoes or when learning math. While here, each child is also responsible for cleaning up their spot and washing their hands as much as they are able.
[As an aside, I am proud to see how much more independent they have become since the beginning of this Rascal journey: they now reliably wipe up spills and use enough soap and water to reasonably clean their hands, taking initiative to do these things on their own upon completion of messy activities. When we first started, I spent a lot of time demonstrating and helping and repeating prompts to enforce these important personal responsibility skills and now they almost always do clean up on their own, only occasionally asking for help reaching paper towels.]
Next came a pre-snack chat about moon phases. We learned new vocabulary: waxing, waning, gibbous, crescent, new and full moon. We revisited our Spanish vocabulary word luna as well. I brought out a felt moon for each phase as a tactile reinforcement and discussed the cycle of a moon phase each month. Then came Oreos. Yum! I’ve done Oreo moons with KindyKid before, but Oreos are delicious and they really are the perfect way to learn moon phases for little kids. Especially hungry ones! We matched each Oreo to its felt moon and reviewed the new vocabulary again. Everyone ate Oreos and “blue planets” (blueberries) while we looked at the solar system poster and moon phases some more.
While the Rascals feasted, I mixed the ingredients for our science experiment: bouncy balls! I used the recipe from The 36th Avenue and while it took a little longer than 10 seconds, they turned out pretty well! They looked like little planets and the kids loved watching the goo transition to a more plastic solid. A fun little experiment, for sure!
To wrap things up, we traipsed back to the school room and I gave each child their own letter comet puzzles. This is a simple clothespin task, building hand strength but also practicing upper- and lowercase letter matching. Each capital letter was written on a clothespin and lowercase letters were scrambled across several colored jumbo craft sticks (comets). A star sticker was placed on the pinching end of the clothespin to help identify where the matching letter could be found. This activity can be used in several ways: to match letters, to match colors, or to just practice pinching! This puzzle also works on sequencing and matching skills. It was super easy to create and the kids love having their own puzzles to do. We spent a very brief amount of time on this today, so they took the puzzles home as “homework” to work on until next time.
We circled back to our main theme and took turns connecting the planets in the solar system kit puzzle, reviewing the main attributes of each. While the puzzle didn’t lay flat, they did really well! We did a final review by matching the flashcards to the corresponding puzzle piece (matching and sorting are important early math and reading skills!) and learning the first letter of each planet. Finally, instead of singing the ABCs with instruments as usual, we did a quick verbal review of the things we learned today and sang a rousing rendition of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. We had a busy day!
Skills practiced: matching, sorting, phonemic awareness, grip and hand strength, social awareness skills, body autonomy, personal responsibility, cardinal numbers, sequencing, counting to 10, colors, measurement, body awareness and control, yoga
Vocabulary: waxing, waning, gibbous, crescent, new moon, full moon, orbit, solar system, planet names
La Luna – the moon
Estrellas – stars
¡Buenas Noches! – Good night