All three of my children have been interested in space. It started when they were tiny and first noticed the stars and the moon and it developed into absolute awe and wonder at it all as their knowledge and understanding grew with their years. So you can imagine how excited we were when we got the opportunity to try out this Motorised Solar System and Planetarium from Learning Resources.
As a mum and a teacher I have found that children often learn most easily when things are hands on and visual. Obviously I can’t physically show my children the different planets orbiting the sun so I really love how this solar system model brings the difficult concept of space to life in a way that really helps children develop their understanding.
The kit is very easy to put together and each planet sits on a metal arm that travels in its orbit around the sun, powered by the motor. The sun in the centre has a light inside so it glows really nicely. The model can be used in different modes so you can have the motor and light off and just move things manually or you can just have the motor on to move the planets, or the motor and the light on together or even just have the light on alone. I really liked having the variable settings. It meant the children could explore moving the planets themselves and we intend to use it in lamp only mode as a nightlight too!
It’s also possible to take off the top half of the sun and replace it with a star dome and this cleverly converts the solar system model into a planetarium projector! This mode got some big “Wows” from my boys as they saw the constellation shapes appear on the walls and ceiling. I’m really looking forward to the early sunset times of winter now, so that we can begin to try to spot some of the constellations in the real night sky too.
The model is aimed at ages 8+ and I’d say this was just about right for children to get the most out of it. It comes with a super booklet that gives you lots of ideas about how to introduce the model to different ages of children and the kind of questions you can ask them to consider and the level of concepts they are likely to understand. I found this really useful for helping me enable the children to get the most out of the model and if you are a home-schooler or teacher this will be really useful for your lesson planning too.
There are of course limits to what the model can actually do. It isn’t to scale and the planets don’t spin on their axis and when the motor is on they all travel around the sun at the same speed. But I actually really liked these limitations as they prompted so much discussion and allowed the children to talk about what they knew, to prove and justify the facts and prompted them to research things they didn’t know. For instance, we found out that the model would have to be 30 miles long to get Pluto at a proportionally correct distance from the sun! And have you ever stopped to think about which direction the different planets spin on their axis or orbit around the sun? We have now!
This is a great model that can be used in different ways and at different levels depending on the age and needs of your children. My children have done a lot of reading about space over the years and the model proved a great way for them to amaze me with just how much they knew and they really enjoyed using it to demonstrate different things to me. The booklet is also bursting with ideas about how to teach and explore the basics and also how to further develop children’s understanding with a variety of fun activities.
One of the suggested activities my 8 year likes the most is positioning the planets. In real life their positions change from day-to-day and it’s possible to look up their ‘heliocentric longitude’ (Yes, a new term for me too!) in the accompanying booklet or online and then use the longitude markings on the model to put the planets in their real-time positions. Crumb loved doing this and looking up where the planets were on specific dates, like Xmas or at the time of his birth. The booklet even shows you how to use the model to work out which planets might actually be visible in the night sky in any particular month. We are really looking forward to clear early nights to try to spot some!
So would I recommend this Motorised Solar System Model? Although a little pricey at £35.94 I have to say a wholehearted yes! If I ever have to teach this subject area in the classroom again I wouldn’t be without one and within the home I think it’s something the children will continue to use for fun and learning again and again in lots of different ways and for many years to come. And to top it off when it’s not being used it won’t be yet another toy stuffed into the back of the cupboard because we plan to use it as a fabulously funky bedroom lamp too!
So enormous thanks to Learning Resources for letting us try their Motorised Solar System; it gets a massive thumbs up from us and is definitely one to put on the Christmas list if you’ve got space loving children like mine!
Learning Resources also have lots of other space themed educational items you might like too like Hanging Glow-in-the-Dark Planets, an Inflatable Solar System and a fab looking Telescope which is at the top of our wish list now because we’d love to have a closer look at the real life stars and planets too.