STEAM Storytime: Moons & Planets!

Image credit: Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars by Douglas Florian (Harcourt, 2007)

Week 2 of our month-long voyage into outer space brought a discussion about planets and their moons (did you know that Saturn has 62 moons?). Read on for a mini book tour of the planets, occasional space facts, and one of my favorite activities ever.

Rather than sing, I start STEAM Storytime with a discussion. My intention is to sort of mimic the scientific method with the program. We start by observing, and then I come up with a question and ask the kids for their hypotheses before we experiment. Before the kids leave, I ask them to report what they’ve learned. That’s the goal anyway. Full disclosure: I’ve yet to achieve this goal. Still, I find it’s helpful to have a concept to frame my storytime practice.

Brainstorm: What will you find in outer space?

This brainstorm didn’t work as well as I’d hoped. This was probably due to the fact that many of the attendees didn’t have a lot of space vocabulary in their word banks yet. It ended up being a lot of talk about stars and moons and suns (which is totally fine!). The word “planet” didn’t come to mind until I had given a few hints. Once we got there, I asked the participants to name some planets. The ones they knew: Mars, Venus, and Earth.

Book: Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars by Douglas Florian

comets stars the moon and mars
Image credit: Douglas Florian (Harcourt, 2007)

I love, love, love this book of space poems. There’s a lot you can do with it but what I decided to do was let the kids choose which planets we wanted to “visit” and then we’d read the poem about that planet or moon or space term. It was a lot of fun and I was able to make the reading last just long enough without them getting too squirrelly. We made a lot of observations about how the planets looked, comparing and contrasting different planets. My favorite interaction: I asked how a child knew that Saturn was Saturn before I said the name out loud and he said “Because I can read. Duh!”

Song: “Zoom, Zoom, Zoom”

The more we do this song, the more they love it and look forward to it. Even the older ones were into it this time!

Book: If You Were the Moon by Laura Purdie Salas, illus. Jaime Kim

if you were the moon
Image credit: Jaime Kim (Millbrook Press, 2017)

I chose this book last minute after randomly stumbling across it on our New shelf and it’s really great! There are sidebars with facts about the moon that you can choose to read or not. I read all these facts at the beginning (it is STEAM Storytime after all) but I found that it ended up being too much and things capsized pretty quickly. It might have also been because the picture book reads like a storybook, even with the facts, and the moon is magically personified. Not sure. But I’m still glad I read it because it was a great transition into our activity—and the art is absolutely beautiful!

Activity 1: Moon Craters

nasa moon crater
Image source: NASA (California Institute of Technology)

source: NASA

I LOVE THIS ACTIVITY SO MUCH. I think it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. The idea is that it simulates how craters are formed on the moon. You layer white flour, sprinkles, and cocoa in a dish or cake pan. Then, you throw a rock at the surface and the flour and sprinkles come up and out over the cocoa to mimic the “ejecta patterns” (rays) and “regolith” (lunar soil) that are created or exposed by the impact. You can throw the rock from different angles to see how it changes the creation of craters.

I’ll say that many kids ended up just mixing everything and eating the cocoa and sprinkles. But it was still really great to see the trial and error of making the craters.

Note for next time: make sure to use only gluten free flour because, apparently, some people’s sensitivity to gluten includes touch and breathing it in.

Activity 2: Milk Planets

Image credit: Amy Koester (Skokie Public Library)

source: Skokie Public Library

I have wanted to do this for a long time, even though it basically has nothing to do with space—it’s more about surface tension and making pretty swirls in milk. (Related: I found a really cool video about surface tension in space while researching the term.) The kids really enjoyed it, but many grown-ups were ready to leave after the previous activity and, because milk planets are so enticing, ended up staying longer. I didn’t have as many kids as I bought supplies for, and ended up wasting a lot of milk—which didn’t make me feel very responsible. I think I’ll avoid using animal products in my activities from here on out.

How It Went: What I liked about today was that both of the activities were “kitchen science” activities, and I made a point to tell the grown-ups that these were things they could easily do at home and keep thinking about these topics. I thought I did a much better job this week of balancing the level of story and information. I tried to start storytime with a recap of last week and that was less helpful than I thought it might be—mostly because not all of the kids were there. But I think I’ll keep trying to see if it helps recall any concepts from the previous week.

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