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Solar System Projects: Mini Clay, Paper Mache, and Yarn Ball

Artistic solar system models can be simple enough for a preschooler or advanced enough for older kids, teens, and adults. The three science project ideas in this article can be used for almost any age level, as you can keep the creations simple or venture to the more elaborate. The learning concepts you add can be as straightforward as the names of the planets or as complex as calculating planet rotation rates. These are fun and cool space projects that everyone will enjoy. As an added bonus, the artwork is so special that you will want to keep it as a tabletop or room decoration.

How to Make a Mini Clay Solar System

My 12-year-old daughter is a mini clay food artist, so I commissioned her to use some basic clay techniques to make a mini solar system. The methods she uses are easy to learn. Some that she demonstrated are:

  • using craft sand for texture (Sun),
  • using a ball tool to create craters (Mercury),
  • twisting and folding clay for a swirled effect (Venus, Mars, and Saturn),
  • cutting out clay shapes (Earth and Jupiter),
  • scraping powder from chalk pastels to add another layer of color (Uranus), and
  • mixing two clay colors for a marbling effect (Neptune).

Using the instructions below, you can make your own.

Supplies:

  • tile, cutting board, or another smooth surface to work on
  • oven-bake polymer clay: black and assorted colors
  • orange craft sand
  • royal blue chalk pastel
  • clay tools* - ball stylus tools, clay cleaning tool (looks like a mini chisel), clay blade, mini circle cutter
  • small paintbrush
  • black floral wire
  • wire cutters*
  • pliers*
  • parchment paper
  • cookie sheet
  • glue

*Younger children will need adult supervision with any sharp tools.

Instructions:

  1. Create the sun, base, and eight planets as shown in the photos above. The chart below will give you ideas for clay colors and techniques you may want to use to create your own designs.
  2. The planets will be attached to the black base with the floral wire, so cut eight pieces of wire in ascending lengths as shown in the picture below. Attach Mercury to the shortest wire, and Neptune to the longest to accurately depict each planet's distance from the Sun. Each remaining planet should be paired with the wire that corresponds to its distance from the Sun.
  3. Using pliers, bend one end of each wire up (about 1/2 inch) to form a right angle so that it will hold a clay planet.
  4. Follow the layout of planets in the picture below or play around with your own design.
  5. Once you decide on the placement of the planets, stick the straight end of the shortest wire in the base and attach Mercury to the other end. Repeat the process for the other wires and planets. If one side of the model is leaning over, you may have to rearrange them.
  6. Before baking, remove the planets from the wires and set aside with the Sun. Place the black base with attached wires on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Follow the baking instructions for the clay you are using. (We used Sculpey clay and baked for 15 minutes at 275 degrees.)
  7. Let the base cool, and then add the planets to the wires. Place the Sun on the cookie sheet, but not on the base. Again, follow baking instructions for the clay you used. (We baked for 15 more minutes at 275 degrees.) Let cool.
  8. Once the solar system model is cooled, you can add the Sun to the base. For extra durability, you can glue it to the base.

Planet Color and Technique Guide

PlanetClay ColorsTechniques

Mercury

grey, silver

add dots for craters

Venus

orange, gold, brown, yellow

swirl colors

Earth

blue, green, white

cut out land masses and ice caps

Mars

red, orange, brown

swirl colors; craft sand or chalk pastel powder for red dust; rocky texture for volcanoes, canyons and craters

Jupiter

orange, red, gold, beige, white

stripes; small red circle for the Great Red Spot

Saturn

beige, moss green, white, black, gold

swirl colors for planet; striped rings

Uranus

light blue, white

solid light blue or blue and white mix; brush on powder from darker blue chalk pastel; thin white rings

Neptune

dark blue, royal blue, white

solid blue or mix in a little white with blue for a marbling effect

How to Make Paper Mache Planets

Amazing pieces of art can be made from simple ingredients such as paper, flour, water, balloons, and paint. Round planets are the perfect subject for a basic paper mache. Who doesn't love tearing paper, feeling the gluey goo, and painting? It is a messy, long process, but the results are spectacular. The finished products can be suspended from the ceiling in your child's bedroom. Follow the instructions below to make your own.

Finished paper mache project.

Finished paper mache project.

Supplies:

  • balloons
  • old magazines or newspapers
  • flour
  • water
  • salt
  • large bowl or tray
  • whisk or large spoon
  • string
  • acrylic paint, assorted colors
  • paintbrush
  • poster board

Instructions:

  1. Blow up eight balloons for the eight planets. Make sure they are to scale!
  2. In a large bowl or tray, mix flour and water into a soupy glue-like substance.
  3. Mix in a little salt to prevent molding.
  4. Tie a piece of string to the knot of one balloon.
  5. Rip magazine pages or newspaper into 1 1/2 inch wide strips of varying lengths.
  6. Soak a strip of paper in the flour mixture and wipe excess liquid off by sliding between your fingers or between your finger and the side of the bowl or tray.
  7. Apply the wet strip to the balloon.
  8. Continue to add soaked paper strips until the balloon is completely covered.
  9. Hang balloon from a rod to dry. Protect the floor with paper or an old bed sheet.
  10. Repeat steps 4-9 for each balloon. Let dry for 24 hours.
  11. Repeat the process and add a second layer of paper to each balloon. Let dry for 24 hours.
  12. Repeat the process and add a third layer of paper to each balloon. Let dry for 24 hours.
  13. Paint each balloon to resemble the planet it represents.
  14. The rings of Saturn and Uranus can be painted on or made from poster board. (We painted rings directly on Uranus, but painted striped rings on poster board for Saturn.)
  15. Let planets dry for 24 hours, and then pop the balloons with a pin near the balloon knot.

Tips:

  • After blowing up the balloons, write the name of each planet on them to prevent a mix-up. Hang the planets to dry in order as well.
  • For the last layer of paper mache, use plain white copy paper so less paint will be needed.
  • Metallic and glitter acrylic paints work well for this space project.
  • Use fishing line if you decide to hang your completed project from the ceiling—it's nearly invisible!

How to Make a Yarn Ball Solar System

Yarn or string balls make beautiful holiday ornaments, but they also make really cool planets. To display this decorative project, hang the Sun from the center of a large round piece of cardboard. Hang the planets in orbit around it. Another idea is to hang them from a wooden dowel in order of their distance from the Sun. Follow these instructions to create a fantastic yarn ball solar system:

Supplies:

  • yarn, assorted colors
  • water balloons or other small balloons
  • tacky glue
  • water
  • large bowl or tray
  • paintbrush
  • glitter, assorted colors
  • wax paper

Instructions:

  1. Blow up nine balloons to represent the Sun and eight planets.
  2. In a bowl or tray, mix glue with a little water to make it runny.
  3. Paint a balloon with the glue mixture.
  4. Twirl a piece of yarn around the balloon's knot and hold it in place.
  5. With your other hand, wrap the yarn around the balloon crisscrossing vertically many times.
  6. Start wrapping horizontally and then in all directions until the balloon is mostly covered.
  7. Tie yarn in a knot with the starting piece that is wrapped the balloon's knot.
  8. Leave enough excess yarn to hang the balloon up to dry.
  9. Soak the yarn-covered balloon in the glue mixture. Use a paintbrush to dab and saturate the thicker areas of yarn.
  10. Sprinkle glitter all over the yarn ball.
  11. Hang to dry over wax paper to protect your floors.
  12. Repeat the process for the rest of the balloons.
  13. Let dry for 24 hours.
  14. Once completely dry, pop the balloons with a pin or toothpick.
  15. Remove balloon pieces with your fingers or tweezers.
  16. To create Saturn's rings, follow the step-by-step pictures below.

Planets Poll

Comments

abhishek singh from mumbai on June 04, 2020:

really good as a teaching aid

children would love to study with such things

Abdullah on October 01, 2016:

I love this

melissa on June 24, 2015:

My son will be in second grade next fall.. I plan to help him make the yarn solar system.. I saw the model in commercial.. And found the steps here.. THANKS!!!

gabby on October 20, 2014:

love the idees

Yassin on October 09, 2013:

we used these colors to paint

Bailey on August 24, 2013:

I love the progects

mwaxy masiye on February 02, 2013:

this is so cool i really am gonna do the papier mache for my science project

RTalloni on January 23, 2013:

These are super examples of solar system projects, and your daughter really is a mini clay artist! This will be helpful to many students who want to do a science fair project on our solar system and I can see a young mom adapting these ideas to make a mobile for her babies/toddlers.

Sarah Johnson (author) from Charleston, South Carolina on July 29, 2012:

Thanks, Alissa. Yes, these would be perfect for science fair projects!

Alissa Roberts from Normandy, TN on July 29, 2012:

Wow! Seriously these will make some awesome science fair projects! I am definitely pinning this one cause I am sure in about 3-4 years my son will need one of these ideas for school. Very impressive hub - voted up and over!

Sarah Johnson (author) from Charleston, South Carolina on July 27, 2012:

Hi, cardelean. Yes, I think these can be easily incorporated into the classroom. The polymer clay is great for fine motor skills.

Sarah Johnson (author) from Charleston, South Carolina on July 27, 2012:

Hi, teaches12345. Yes, kids will love making them. My two are still admiring their work.

cardelean from Michigan on July 27, 2012:

What a fun and educational activity! Your video was great to demonstrate how easily the planets can be molded by a child. Perfect activity to a classroom!

Dianna Mendez on July 26, 2012:

This is a very well written and designed hub. I love the project and you have done a fantastic job with the planet models. This would be so fun to do with kids.

Sarah Johnson (author) from Charleston, South Carolina on July 25, 2012:

Thanks, clevercat! The color guide shows the colors that most people associate with the planets, but I bet some crazy neon colors would be cool for the paper mache planets or even the mini clay model. You can add your own flair to any of these projects.

Rachel Vega from Massachusetts on July 25, 2012:

I LOVE the color guide!!! And the yarn balls. (They are on my "to do" list.) What a wonderful video, too. This is simply a terrific hub. Useful, awesome, beautiful, G+, and Pinterest! Really cool and excellent job.

Sarah Johnson (author) from Charleston, South Carolina on July 25, 2012:

Hi, cclitgirl. Yes, we have a full-fledged galaxy around here now! Maybe I should start selling some of this on Ebay.....just kidding!

Cynthia Calhoun from Western NC on July 25, 2012:

Um...do you have planets hanging all over your house now? Hehe. This is a really cool hub! Wow! I can't believe the time this all must have taken. Your kiddos are glad, I'm sure, though. They got a chance to do all this with you! Fabulous job and I kept staring over and over at the pictures.

Sarah Johnson (author) from Charleston, South Carolina on July 25, 2012:

Thanks, Crystal. They were a blast to make!

Crystal Tatum from Georgia on July 25, 2012:

Simply awesome. Voted up and shared.