There’s a lot of talk in the green scene about how there’s only one Earth and we need to take care of it, and this couldn’t be more true. But it’s captivating to look beyond our own small, blue planet and survey the rest of the solar system to gain a further appreciation for our natural resources. Involving my kids in my (admittedly deep) interest and study of space has pushed me to learn even more. Here’s how teaching the solar system for kids to understand helps them realize how fragile and important their home is.
Why We’re Different
Earth is the only planet in the solar system that’s known to have water (Jupiter’s moon Europa may have frozen water, but this has yet to be confirmed). Because of this, Earth is the only planet with life. Organisms like you, your family, and your dog or cat can’t live without water, so we need to take care of the supply we do have.
This includes using only what you need and doing your best to keep it clean—both of which can help your kids develop an interest in the solar system. By knowing how different and special their planet is, and how important it is to the ecosystem, they’ll be more willing to conserve the resources on it. This knowledge could shrink your family’s carbon footprint.
Teaching your kids some solar system facts about the other planets will allow them to compare and contrast them to their home planet. You can start with these eight:
The closest planet to our sun is also is the smallest planet in our solar system, measuring just a bit larger than our Moon. Its rotation and orbit are very different than ours, with long days and short years.
One entire day (the time it takes for a planet to spin, or fully rotate on its axis, once) on Mercury takes almost 176 Earth days! Its orbit around the Sun (measured as a year) takes just 88 Earth days. Talk about how short seasons would be on Mercury compared to Earth, and how our food growing season would shorten.
A strong greenhouse effect takes place beneath Venus’s thick clouds—which are so dense it makes the surface much hotter than we’d be able to live in. This is a great way to talk about greenhouse gasses and their polluting effect on Earth over time.
Your closest space neighbor (and my personal favorite), Mars has the highest mountain in the solar system. Olympus Mons is 16 miles high, making it about three times higher than Mount Everest.
Talk about your family’s favorite natural wonders on Earth, and how they form through movement by the plate tectonics beneath Earth’s crust. These plates are very sensitive to the drilling processes we perform to harvest fuel, and can cause many man-made communities grief when tampered with.
This orange and red planet is the largest of the planets and has dozens of moons. The big red spot most kids are familiar with is actually a huge, gaseous storm that has raged for hundreds of years. Question for kids: What sort of weather do we experience in our neck of the universe? How do Earth’s own currents cause them to take place?
This large gas giant has no hard surface, unlike Earth. Why is this important to people, and how can you protect the ground you walk on? Of course you can’t talk about Saturn without discussing its rings.
Unlike all other planets, Uranus rotates sideways, so it “rolls” instead of rotates. Because of this odd movement, the planet has 20 yearlong seasons. Talk about why Earth’s seasons do occur, and how they affect the things we grow.
This blue planet has winds nine times stronger than Earth’s could ever be, according to NASA. Have you talked to your kids about what causes wind? The Iowa Energy Center has a great explanation of its conversion to power.
8. Dwarf Planets
Poor Pluto—its demotion to dwarf planet in 2006 was a sad day for space geeks. But did you know it’s actually smaller than our moon? Also, there are four other major dwarf planets out there. The big thing to remember about these guys is that they’re super cold and rocky with little atmosphere, so they simply can’t support life. This is the other side of the “heat” coin; too little is just as significant as too much.
Cultivating Their Interest
Find your local planetarium and take a visit when your kids are itching to go somewhere. Many planetariums are part of a natural history museum that will likely have water or nature displays and activities to further connect Earth with the solar system for kids to compare.
NASA studies the Earth too, of course. Check out Climate Kids: NASA’s Eyes on Earth for games and information to share with the fam.
When you’re outside at night with your kids, look up! Check out the stars and the moon, and see if you can point out Venus or Mars. You don’t need a telescope but it certainly doesn’t hurt. You can also use binoculars. While you’re looking at the sky, talk about light pollution on the horizon. Check out the Loss of the Night app to be part of some citizen science coolness.
Which is your favorite planet? What about your kids? Tell us on Twitter!
Image source: Flickr | Maureen Wise
This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.