Level 2+: Outer Space Unit

We are so excited to introduce our third installment of this out-of-this-world unit! Get ready to explore the mysteries of the universe, including black holes, the planet Mars, and the life cycle of stars. We’ll also dig into some space history, including a little-known astronomers (who made a big impact!) and an introduction to the Space Race and one of the first astronauts (who might not be who you expect!). Ready to blast off? Click here to download this week’s skills tracker.

Note: Occasionally we include project modifications (which can be useful for including younger siblings) and upgrades (for children ready for more). We’ll mark those with the minus (-) or plus (+) symbols.

What you need:

Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):

Optional additional books:

Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):

What to do:

We recommend doing the below lessons in this order to build on each skill your child will develop, but don’t feel that you *need* to do them in this order. Do what works for you and your child. If they love an activity, feel free to repeat! Not a winner? Skip and try the next thing. Have fun!

Phonics Guide:

New to our phonics guide? Start here. The Phonics Guide this week will highlight the phonics rule about C and D when followed by a silent E, as in space or large.

Lesson 1:

Not surprisingly, there is so much to learn about space! (It is pretty big, after all!) If you have been using our units for a while, your child has no doubt enjoyed learning many foundational concepts, like the planets and more about our solar system. Throughout this week, we’ll be taking a deeper look at aspects of space we haven’t covered yet, while also reviewing what we have. Let’s begin by looking through the book The Mysteries of the Universe. There is a lot to read in this book, so don’t feel like you need to absorb every single thing right now. Flip through it, reading anything that catches your child’s interest. We’ll reference it throughout the week!

Activity 1: Something we talk about a lot when we talk about outer space is gravity. But what exactly is gravity? Gravity is the force by which a planet or other body draws objects toward its center. The force of gravity keeps all of the planets in orbit around the sun. This article shares more about this important force, and/or you can watch this helpful video to learn more about how it works.

In past units (like our Things That Go Unit), we have learned about several of Isaac Newton’s Forces of motion. Newton’s Law of Gravity says that every particle attracts every other particle in the universe with a force which is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between their centers.

In simpler terms, gravity is a force that tries to pull two objects toward each other. Anything which has mass also has a gravitational pull equal to its mass. The more mass an object has, the stronger its gravitational pull is. Gravity also gets weaker with distance. So, the closer objects are to each other, the stronger their gravitational pull is.

Earth’s gravity comes from all its mass. All its mass makes a combined gravitational pull on all the mass in your body. That’s what gives you weight. If you were on a planet with less mass than Earth, you would weigh less than you do here. (source) This fun calculator will show your child what they would weigh on other planets!

Finally, let’s demonstrate how the force of gravity works with Newton’s other laws of motion with a simple activity. (You can use a bead garland like this!)

First, review some of Newton’s Laws of Motion with your child:

Newton’s First Law states that an object at rest will remain at rest and an object in motion will remain in motion (unless acted upon by force). Another important term is inertia. Inertia is the tendency of a body to resist a change in motion or rest.

Newton’s Second Law states that force is equal to the mass of the object times its acceleration or F= MA.  A force is a push or a pull, and mass is a measurement of the amount of matter the object has. Acceleration measures how fast the velocity (speed with direction) changes.  Put simply, it means that you need a force to move an object. The bigger the mass, the greater the force you will need.

Now let’s bring all these physics to life with our beads! First, wind your garland into a tall cup (make sure they are not tangled for best results.) Leave about an inch of one end hanging out.

Have your child stand on a chair or hold the cup as high as they can and gently give the hanging end a little tug. The beads will start moving and continue until the cup is empty―almost like magic! (But it’s science!!)

If your child wants a closer look, take a slow motion video of the activity in action. You will see that the beads actually arc up slightly before coming down. This is because of the initial pull you give it. It continues in that upward motion until the force of gravity brings it downward. 

Activity 2: One of those most fascinating phenomena in the universe is black holes. A black hole does not have a surface, like a planet or star. Instead, it is a region of space where matter has collapsed in on itself. This catastrophic collapse results in a huge amount of mass being concentrated in an incredibly small area. The gravitational pull of this region is so great that nothing can escape—not even light. (source) Read page 146 of our book to learn more. If you weren’t able to get the book, this video explains more about them, and this silly song can help your child remember even more details. Finally, let’s bring it to life with this erupting “black hole” activity!

Activity 3: Let’s pretend to be astronomers for our phonics activity. First, write 10-20 words that follow this week’s phonics rule (C and G make a soft sound when followed by a silent E) on sticky notes. (These star ones are extra fun!) Here are some examples:

  • space
  • orange
  • lice
  • face
  • large
  • fringe
  • place
  • ice
  • rice
  • spice
  • bulge
  • hinge
  • pace
  • race
  • luge
  • age
  • lace
  • nice
  • juice
  • page
  • dice

Stick the notes on a wall in a dark room and give your child a flashlight. Have them “discover” each word with the flashlight and read it.

Lesson 2:

Today’s lessons are all about stars! Begin by reading the book A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars.

Activity 1: A hundred billion trillion is a pretty big number! If your child wonders what other big numbers look like (and what comes after the trillions), this chart can be helpful to share with them. While we won’t go that high in our place value lessons (at least not in Level 2+!), let’s spend some time reviewing place value and learning a few new places.

Print these sheets. If your child is already very familiar with place value up to the thousands, you can skip the first two pages. If they need a review, spend some time solidifying their understanding of those place values first. Tape the two sheets side-by-side so it shows thousands, hundreds, tens, and ones from left to right. You can also use these place value blocks.

When your child is ready for more, explain that the next two place values are ten thousands and hundred thousands. You can also show them that we typically put a comma when we go from hundreds to thousands, always breaking up big numbers in groups of three. These groupings also help us know how to read the number. Practice writing out big numbers and reading them correctly. (You can also laminate this sheet to repeat the activity.)

Activity 2: Did you know a star has a life cycle, just like a frog or a butterfly? Let’s learn about the stages of an average star with this life cycle poster activity. You will need a piece of black construction paper or poster board, two cotton balls, a large red Pom Pom, a medium yellow pom pom, a mini white pom pom, glue, and markers (including one that can write on black, such as silver).

As you build each stage, do a little research into what they each mean. You can learn about new stars on page 126 of our Mysteries of the Universe book, nebulas on page 150, stars on page 122, a red star on page 124, and planetary nebulas on page 154.

What to do:

  1. Use brown and gray markers to color one of the pulled-out cotton balls, so that it looks like a stellar nebula with its cloud of dust and gas.
  2. Glue the stellar nebula ball at the top left of the poster, label it, and draw an arrow after it.
  3. Next, glue a medium yellow pom-pom for the average star, label it, and draw an arrow after it.
  4. Then, glue a large red pom-pom for the red giant, label it, and draw an arrow after it.
  5. Next, use purple, orange, and blue markers to color the other pulled out cotton ball so that it looks like a planetary nebula.  
  6. Glue the planetary nebula ball at the top left of the poster, label it, and draw an arrow after it.
  7. Finally, glue a small white Pom Pom for the white dwarf and label it. 

Your final project should look something like this:

This article can also be helpful in explaining the stages. As you can see in that graphic, massive stars have a different ending! We learned about black holes yesterday, but you can read about a red supergiant star on page 139, supernovas on page 142, and neutron stars on page 145 of our book.

Activity 3: We can’t talk about stars without talking about constellations! Finally, let’s make this constellation jar to bring them to life in our own home. A constellation is a group of stars that looks like a particular shape in the sky and has been given a name. They are not really connected to each other at all, but if you were to draw lines in the sky between the stars like a dot-to-dot puzzle—and use lots of imagination—the picture would look like an object, animal, or person. (source)
(+) If your child is interested in the stories behind the constellations, you can read Once Upon a Starry Night: A Book of Constellations by Jacqueline Mitton (or read it here on OpenLibrary). For an extra writing activity this week, have them create their own story to inspire a constellation!

Lesson 3:

Today’s lessons will be all about constellations and galaxies! Begin by reading about an astronomer who made major discoveries (while also overcoming a lot of roadblocks to her career) in the book Look Up!: Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer.

Activity 1: Because space is so big, astronomers often begin by breaking it up into what are called galaxies. A galaxy is a huge collection of gas, dust, and billions of stars and their solar systems held together by gravity. (source) Scientists estimate that there are over 2 trillion galaxies in the observable universe! The galaxy we live in is called the Milky Way Galaxy. This article shares more interesting facts about our galaxy, and you can also read page 120 and 166-185 of The Mysteries of the Universe for more about galaxies.

Let’s create our own mini “galaxies” with this galaxy bark recipe (which will make a great treat for Tea + Poetry today!). Not into sweets? You can make this galaxy playdough instead.

Activity 2: Let’s have some interplanetary Tea + Poetry! Serve your favorite snacks and read through some of the poems in Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars: Space Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian (or read it here on OpenLibrary).

Activity 3: Astronomers today are able to learn more about the far reaches of space thanks to satellites. A satellite is an object in space that orbits or circles around a bigger object. There are two kinds of satellites: natural (such as the moon orbiting the Earth) or artificial (such as the International Space Station orbiting the Earth). (source)

The first ever artificial satellite was Sputnik 1. It was launched on October 4, 1957 by the USSR. When people refer to Sputnik, they are talking about a series of scientific research satellites launched by the Soviet Union from 1957 to 1961—Sputnik 1 was just the first part of it. It served as a limited radio transmitter. (source) You can find more facts about Sputnik here as well. We will learn more about the launch of Sputnik 2 in Lesson 5. For now, let’s build our own model of Sputnik 1. You will need a piece of aluminum foil (enough to crumple into a golf ball-sized ball), 2 bamboo skewers, silver paint (optional), a hot glue gun + glue, and a wire hanger.

Start by painting the skewers silver, if desired. Once they’re dry, cut them each in half. Crumple your foil into a ball and use hot glue to attach the silver skewers to one end to form your Sputnik satellite. Finally, unwrap your wire hanger and use a dot of hot glue to attach one end to your satellite.

Now, have your child hold the other end of the hanger and “orbit” the satellite around themselves. Explain that satellites are always moving around, or orbiting, a larger object, such as a planet, star, or moon,  in order to collect information or for communication. Technically, the earth is a satellite of our sun and our moon is a satellite of earth! But manmade satellites are able to transmit information. (source)

Lesson 4:

Today, we’ll be exploring a planet that has captured the imagination of earthlings for the last few decades—Mars! Start with the book You Are the First Kid on Mars. Next, watch this video for a peek at a real space station! This video also shares some fast facts about the red planet.

Activity 1: Let’s pretend we are planning our own mission to Mars! The first thing we need to figure out is how to land safely on the surface. Present your child with the following materials and STEM challenge, and then let them get to work!

First, give them a plastic or paper cup with two large marshmallows inside. The marshmallows are your two intrepid astronauts in their pod. Next, give them scrap cardboard, index cards, straws, masking tape, and pom poms (or mini marshmallows), or other recycled materials from your home.

Let them to use these materials to build a Mars “lander” that can be dropped from various heights without the marshmallows bouncing out (the only rule is that they can’t put a lid on the cup!). They will need to think about the concepts of shock-absorption, drag forces, and stability as they build and test. See how high their lander can be successfully dropped! Here’s an example of how the lander might look:

Activity 2: Now that we’ve landed, we need a rover to explore the planet’s surface! Let’s build our own balloon powered rover. You will need a rectangle of scrap cardboard (about 3×4 inches), four bottle caps, an awl or drill, a wooden dowel (cut in half), tape, a straw, and a balloon.

Begin by piercing or drilling holes in the middle of each bottle cap. Put two caps on the ends of each dowel.

Tape the dowels to the cardboard, like this:

Next, securely tape the balloon to the end of the straw.

Finally, tape the balloon straw to the top of your rover:

To power your rover, blow through the straw to fill the balloon, pinching or twisting it to keep the balloon inflated until you are ready to go.

When you are ready to rove, release the balloon! (Note: It works best on hard surfaces, so try running your rover on a tabletop if you have carpet.)

You could also try this edible version.

Activity 3: What would the sand on Mars’ surface look like? Let’s create our own! Fill a sensory bin or glass casserole dish with white sand and add some cut pieces of steel wool. Pour water over the top and watch it for a few days— the sand will turn orange and red just like it might look on Mars!

Activity 4: Finally, let’s create our own colorful Mars project with this watercolor and oil pastel craft. You will need water color paper, black cardstock, oil pastels (crayons can also work), water colors and a paint brush, glue, and silver star stickers or a silver marker.

First, have your child trace a large circle onto the watercolor paper. (Make sure it will fit on your black cardstock. Use black and white oil pastels or crayons to create a textured landscape like what you see on the planet Mars. Next, use red and orange watercolors to fill in the rest of the planet. Once it’s dry, cut out the planet circle.

While it’s drying, use your star stickers or silver marker to add stars to your cardstock paper. Finally, glue your dry Mars onto the star-studded cardstock.

Lesson 5:

Is your child fascinated by space? They’re not alone. Humans have been interested in what exists outside our atmosphere for centuries, and that interest really ramped up in the 1950s with the launch of what is now known as the Space Race. This was a period of almost 20 years of competition between the United States and the Soviet Union to see who could get to and explore space first. This article provides a full timeline of the major Space Race events, and you can find more information about history space exploration in this article.

For our final day of outer space lessons, we will meet one of the world’s first astronauts—Laika the space dog—and launch our own rocket! Begin by reading the book Laika the Space Dog: First Hero in Outer Space by (or read it here on OpenLibrary).

Note to parents: This book tells the very true story, which includes some controversial treatment of the real Laika and her untimely end. If you read it first on OpenLibrary and think your child will be too sensitive for this version, you can read Laika: Astronaut Dog by Owen Davey, or read it here on OpenLibrary.

Activity 1: While Laika is now considered a hero in space exploration history, many children will probably agree that her ending is sad. Let’s give Laika the ending she deserves with a writing activity! Using this comic book prompt or this writing sheet to let your child create their own ending. (If they need some inspiration, you could also share the ending of Laika: Astronaut Dog with them!)

Activity 2: Next, let’s explore a fun side of space exploration: astronaut food! Eating in space comes with a variety of challenges your child might not think of.

The main problem with eating and drinking in space is that there is no gravity. If you let go of a piece of food in a space craft, it will drift around, not fall to the floor. Water won’t stay in a cup, it will float out and hang in the air. Food crumbs and drops of water could float around the spacecraft, make a mess or even damage the the space craft itself.

The first space missions only lasted for a few minutes, so of course there was no need for the crews to eat, but as missions became longer, astronauts had to be fed. Special ways of packaging and eating foods had to be invented for space meals. Scientists spend lots of time working on foods for space travel, to make sure astronauts stay fit, happy and healthy, so they can be at their best while they are in space. Click here to read more (and see photos) of some of the types of foods that have been developed for astronauts.

Now, let’s make some astronaut food of our own! First, let’s try eating food out of a tube with this astronaut pudding recipe. Next, make this astronaut-inspired ice cream.
(+) Looking for some extra writing practice this week? Have your child create a menu for astronauts! Use what you’ve learned so far about what makes good space food and plan a 2-course meal fit for the stars. When they’re ready to write, have them fill out this printable menu to fill out (or they can design their own).

Activity 3: Ready to end the week with a bang? Make this bottle rocket, and get ready to launch!

***Post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through a link, we may receive a small commission at no cost to you. Thank you for supporting our small business!***

Published by The Learn + Live Letter

The Learn + Live Letter is a play- and project-based homeschool curriculum for children ages 3-12.