The $3 Solar System

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You don’t need to spend tons of money on toys to integrate a STEM mindset into your child.  In fact, my favorite “toys” have either been free or extremely affordable.  So let’s talk about just one of my inexpensive and versatile STEM finds, where I found it and how we use it!

Solar System Paper Shapes

I always check out the Target discount bins.  These bins are located in the front of the store and most items are $5, $3 or $1.  Back to school season is the best time to check them out for STEM item steals!  That’s where I found these incredible solar system paper shapes for $3!

We use them at least once a week!  Included inside were satellite images of the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupitar, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

My toddler and I place them orbiting the Sun (she memorized the order from the sun earlier this year from space books).  While they are orbiting, we pretend we are astronauts that launched into space and work on the International Space Station (ISS).  Most of the time, she teaches me facts about the stars and planets in the solar system.  In a recent conversation, we discussed the weather on planet Earth with the National Weather Station.  I pointed out a hurricane on the paper Earth then I found some YouTube clips to help her understand hurricanes.  Now, she happily points out the hurricane “from space” while playing.  Playing pretend has been a great way to introduce new science topics and professions to her.  Playing is learning!

We also observe the other planets, like Jupiter and its “Great Red Spot”.  This usually leads to other questions, which we look up in books or use the internet together.  This is my subtle way of teaching that when you don’t know the answer, you should research it.

Recently, I gave her a challenge for problem solving and critical thinking development.  I asked her to put the planets in order – largest on the bottom and smallest on the top.

She looked at me a bit perplexed, so we “broke down” the problem into smaller pieces. This was an excellent teaching point that when the problem just seems too big, we break it down into smaller pieces.

“Sizing up” the planets!

To break it down, I had her pick the two largest first and tell me which was bigger, then the next two largest, and so on, until they were all in four stacks of two.

Then we compared the planet “stacks” to each other and placed them in one stack in the correct order.

Four stacks of two.

After they were back in orbit circling the sun, I asked which one was the biggest and which one was the smallest again and surprisingly, she remembered!

In the future, I could see us introducing a ruler to measure their size instead of stacking them, scale out how far away they actually are from the Sun (this one would be challenging), investigate why the rings appear different between some planets, perhaps use them to make a solar system mobile, etc.

So, the next time you’re in Target, don’t pass up those bins!

Many of the ways I fostered my child’s interest in space could be mirrored depending on your child’s interests – we played pretend, did research and problem solved together.  As parents, it just takes some research, creativity and being on the look out for the versatile “toys” out there.

If you find a STEM “toy” that is inexpensive and versatile that you’d like to share or highlight, let me know at!

Did you like this article?  Can you think of other uses for our paper solar system?  Would you like to see more like it?  Leave me a note in the comments.

I have no personal relationship with Target other than I am an avid shopper.  All ideas and opinions shared above are my own.


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