Beckham, my almost-four-year-old, loves to learn. Like many toddlers, he asks questions nonstop. He often challenges my knowledge and leaves me struggling to answer some of his inquiries. And there’s no beating around the bush with this one. If I don’t have an answer, I better find one. I’ve admittedly referred to Google images several times to help better explain my answers through pictures. I myself am a visual learner so using pictures and props makes it easier for me to answer some of Beckham’s most complex questions. And since he’s always wanting to learn something new, I’ve tried to come up with new ways to teach and challenge him. We’ve recently starting talking about our solar system, originally sparked from questions about all of the stars in the sky and why some are brighter than others. I created this interactive felt solar system mat to help answer these questions and teach Beckham about our other planets and constellations. The possibilities of this idea are endless and I intend to expand upon it once we nail down the planets and get some constellations under our belt. Next up would be the phases of the moon (and why the moon’s shape evolves over the month) and separately, the different types of clouds.

Supplies:
Miscellaneous colors of felt
3’x3′ sheet of blue felt
Fabric paint
Scissors
2, 4′ x 1/2″ PVC pipes
4, 1/2″ PVC caps
Jute rope
Fabric Glue
To create a set of planets, cut out a circle to represent each using approximate measures to show size relativity. The diameters I used are shown below. Again, these are not exact ratios of size (ex. saturn is much bigger than 2x the earth’s size). The idea behind the size of each planet was to give a general understanding of the relative size of each planet. For example, Jupiter is the biggest of our planets, and Mercury is smaller than Earth.
I used fabric or “puffy” paint to add a little detail to the planets, to represent craters, land, etc. Be careful not to over paint as the planets won’t adhere well if they become too heavy. In addition to the planets, I cut out several stars to use for constellation demonstrations.

To create the mat, I use a 3′ x 3′ felt sheet. I wrapped two opposing sides of the felt around each of the pipes and glued down to create a tunnel for the pvc.
If you want to make the mat hangable, insert the jute rope through one of the PVC pipes
*Tip: Tie the rope to a narrow object that will fit inside the pipe and heavy enough to drop through. (I used a fondue skewer!) Once you tie the rope onto the object, you can drop the object through to quickly thread the pipe.
Create a loop with the rope, knot & trim.
Hide the knot by tucking it inside one of the caps.
Cap off the balance three ends of the pipe.
The mat is complete! Easy!
Use the starts to recreate common constellations such as the Big Dipper…
and Cancer…
There are a lot of great sites out there that go through the most common constellations.
I began teaching Beckham these by first creating the formation myself, and telling him the name of each. He was quickly able to take the stars himself, and recreate the constellations.
Outside of planet identification and location, the planets can be relocated on the board to help teach how our interact and orbit around the sun.
This was so simple but is such a great tool to teach curious toddlers. Beckham loves “playing” with his solar system and in just a couple days, he can now tell me about several of the planets including which is the biggest, closest to the sun, next to Earth, etc.
Have fun teaching your little one!
-Stephanie