Terrestrial, or rocky planets, are often covered with craters. To teach children how craters are formed, take a large baking pan and line the bottom with flour. Layer brownie mix and cornstarch on top of the flour to mimic the layers of a planet's crust. Then, have children take turns sending meteorites into the pan. Marbles, pennies, or erasers work great. The resulting craters and ejecta matter show the how objects from space impact the surface of a planet.
Children often learn best by seeing things over and over. Use that theory, and help your children create a drawing of the Solar System on a large piece of construction paper. Encourage children to make each planet as realistic as possible, and add the asteroid belt and some comets. Laminate each drawing, and use them as placemats each night.
Use an online search to find out which planets can be seen each evening. The planets of the Solar System all orbit in roughly the same plane, so children can connect the dots between the visible planets. A simple tip to distinguish planets from stars is that planets don't “twinkle” the same way that stars do. It only takes a minute of online searching to inspire children to think about the other worlds in our system.
It's easier for a child to memorize the order of the planets in the Solar System if he or she creates a Solar System of his or her own. Inexpensive Styrofoam balls can be hung from fishing line to create a three-dimensional Solar System in a child's room. Have the child paint each “ball” to resemble the surface of each planet. Make rings for the outer planets using old CDs.
Hilton Hotels has plans to build the first extraterrestrial hotel on the surface of Earth's moon. This exciting build is still in the planning stages. Encourage creativity by having children plan their own hotel on the Moon. Children can think back to their last hotel stay and list some likes and dislikes. Then, they can design their own Moon hotel, complete with low-gravity activities and viewing Earthrises and Earthsets.
Gravity varies on each of the planets in the Solar System. Everyone is familiar with what gravity is like on Earth, but what about the other planets and moons? On Earth's moon, the gravity is 1/6 that of Earth's. That means you can jump six times as far on the Moon. On Mars, the gravity is roughly 1/3 that of Earth's. On Jupiter, the gravity is 254 percent more than Earth's, so people would have a really hard time moving around. An 80-pound child would weigh 13 pounds on the Moon, but would weigh 189 pounds on Jupiter! To imagine what it's like to “walk” on other planets, put a CD on and dance! An adult can control the speed of the music so that children can jump fast like they're on Mars. Then, the adult can slow down the music so children can simulate walking slow, like on Jupiter.