In an effort to help our children appreciate and recognize the uniqueness of our earth, Mr. David led them on a journey into the solar system. The hope was that by understanding the individual characteristics of each planet, the children would come to the conclusion that the earth is also special, possessing its own particular features that make it distinct.
With this goal in mind, he first led the children through activities that helped them acquire basic information about the planets: their size, habitability, temperature, where they are in reference to the sun, etc. What apparently seems like a mere acquisition of facts was actually an opportunity for the children to understand the unique characteristics of each planet.
Mr. David opened with picture after picture of planets, stars, galaxies, and nebulae. Even for adults, these images are fascinating, inciting nothing less than wonderment. The children were completely captivated by these images. Then he used Google Earth to zoom in and around on and out from the earth. By so doing, not only were the children fascinated by the sight of their own planet but they also gained some perspective, a sense of the magnitude of a planet. He also wanted to help them appreciate the scale of the solar system but after some consideration of the time and resources it would take, he decided to hold off on that for another time.
Mr. David then had the children listen to and watch the popular yet incognito AJ Jenkins’ song/video on the solar system. They pointed out the differences of color and size among the different planets. The song was also instrumental in aiding the children to memorize the names of all the planets. As the song was playing, he periodically paused to add planet after planet on the blackboard and review simple facts for each one.
After a few other simple activities, the children were able to identify basic facts about planets: color, shape, temperature, composition, etc.
Since the test of real learning is the ability to transfer the acquired knowledge to a novel situation, Mr. David led the children to create their own planets using their newfound understanding. They not only learned the papier-mâché method in this process, but more importantly, it reinforced the idea that each existing planet is special. They also recalled the various colors of planets from the pictures and video at the beginning of the unit and used their basic knowledge of color representation (i.e., red is hot, blue is cold) when painting their planets.
After the planets were created, the children were individually interviewed and asked to describe their planets: “Who lives here? Is it cold? Hot?” In hindsight, one question that could’ve been asked is “Would you be happy living here? Why or why not?” They named each of their planets and described their creations to scrupulous detail as children often do.
That children aged 3-5 were able to not only memorize the names of and discrete facts about planets but even more understand the uniqueness of our Earth in this exercise was telling of their capacity to grasp less concrete concepts, or at least more than we give them credit.
As we consider this project, it reminds us of the iconic image of earth’s beautiful blue globe rising beyond the drab surface of the moon, captured so elegantly during the Apollo 8 mission.
As in the words of the journalist Walter Cronkite who was involved in covering this mission in 1968, “That blue disk out there in space, floating alone in the darkness, the utter black of space, it reflected the brilliance of life itself on our planet and brought to mind all of the wonders of our life…It was a powerful moment.”
Perhaps the impression our children gained through this project can be embodied in and reflect (word a little differently?) Lunar Module Pilot Bill Anders’ feeling at this moment, “…we’ve come all this way to study the moon and it’s really the sight of the Earth that has had the most impact. It’s almost as if we’re discovering the Earth for the first time.”
Even if the only take-away for the children through this project was that our good Earth is special, that may be far more valuable than knowing that Jupiter has more than 60 moons.
“As the crew signed off for the last time before getting out of lunar orbit, commander Frank Borman told the American public through television broadcast, ‘And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you — all of you on the good Earth.’”