Projects, Tutorials

How to Make a 3-D Solar System Model for your Grade Schooler

When my youngest brought home a paper for a new school project, I was actually kinda excited for it.

Normally, these projects stress me out, but after Covid and virtual schooling for so long, I was just glad to have this little bit of normalcy back.

How to Make a Model Solar System School Project

Since, she didn’t give us the project rubric until THREE days before the project was due, we didn’t have a lot of time for anything elaborate.

We were able to put together her 3-D solar system model in one afternoon, including the trip to the store to get supplies!

How to Make a Solar System Model

Step 1: Gather Supplies

Thankfully, all of the supplies that we needed for this school project could be found at our local Wal-Mart. (Yay for not having to drive to the craft store!)

Here’s what you need for this solar system model:

  • an empty box (a long narrow one is best)
  • black spray paint
  • 10 styrofoam balls (1 giant, 2 XL, 2 large, 2 medium, 2 small)
  • fishing line (or string)
  • hot glue gun/glue sticks
  • sponge brushes
  • scissors
  • skewer (or pencil)
  • paint (yellow, blue, green, orange, silver, white, brown, and red)
  • toothpicks
  • beads (optional)
  • pen
  • scrapbook/poster letters and embellishments (optional)

While this looks like a long list, we had all of these supplies already, except for the styrofoam balls and 2 paint colors.

Step 2 : Paint Model Solar System Box

After you get all of your supplies, it’s time to paint the box.

We used a small moving box. It wasn’t perfect, since we definitely could have used a box that was a little longer, but we already had it at home and decided that we could make it work.

First, we cut off 3 of the box flaps. We left one long flap at the top of the box because Lyvi wanted to add her name to it.

Then, we painted the box black (inside and out). We added white speckles to it, to make it look more galactic.

A black box ready for our solar system model.
(My husband was so proud of his paint flecking skills to make it look like stars in the sky.)

We tied the flap of the box back to make it stay up right instead of folding down. To do this, fold the flap back to where it is touching the top of the box and poke a hole through both pieces of cardboard. Tie the flap to the top of the box using fishing line or string.

Making a flap for a name on the solar system model.
(We used a bead to tie the flap back, but you can just tie a knot.)

Step 3: Paint the Planets

This step was my girls’ favorite part! It was time to paint the planets of the solar system!

We found that using a sponge brush was easier than a paint brush and covered the styrofoam faster. We also discovered that the styrofoam balls will soak up a lot of paint. So, be liberal with it!

Painting the planets for our solar system model.
(They love anything that involves making a mess!)

The most difficult part of this step was deciding what colors to paint some of the planets and making sure to get the planets the right size. Here’s what we did:

  • Sun (Giant) – yellow
  • Mercury (S) – silver/gray
  • Venus (M) – orange/brown
  • Earth (M) – blue and green
  • Mars (S) – red
  • Jupiter (XL) – brown with light & dark stripes
  • Saturn (XL) – tan/light gray
  • Uranus (L) – light blue
  • Neptune (L) – blue/purple
(The finished project.)

While the girls were busy painting, we made Saturn’s ring.

We cut a chunk off of the unused (and unpainted) half of the sun. Then cut that chunk down to an 1.5 inch thick and hollowed out the center. We attached Saturn in the center of the ring with 2 toothpicks.

Step 4: Hang the Planets

The first planet we placed in our solar system was the sun, by hot glue-ing it to the left side of the box.

The sun was the first planet we placed in our solar system.
(The sun was the first planet to go up!)

One of the guidelines for this project was that the planets had to be in order based on their distance from the sun.

Ideally, we would have wanted to line them up one after the other in front of the sun, but our box was too short. We improvised and hung the planets at varying depths inside the box to make them fit.

Our planets wouldn't all fit in our box for our solar system model.
(Obviously, our planets wouldn’t all fit in a straight line.)

It wasn’t as pretty and orderly as we hoped, but they all fit and were in the correct order starting with Mercury and ending with Neptune.

To hang the planets, we poked a hole through the styrofoam ball with a wooden skewer, ran the fishing line through it, and tied a bead to the end. (If you don’t have beads, you can always use a big glob of hot glue.)

We poked a hole in the top of the box (we used the skewer to poke the holes) and glued the fishing line to the outside of the box. You have to hold the string until the hot glue cools and hardens a little, or the planet will slip and fall.

Step 5: Label the Planets

Finally, it was time to label the solar system! (This was another project requirement.)

I made Lyvi write the names of the planets on a piece of card stock (regular paper would work too) and cut them out. It was hard for her write small, but she did a great job!

We hot glued the labels to a toothpick and stuck them in the planets.

We made little signs to label the planets in our model solar system.
(Lyvi did a great job on her planet labels!)

Step 6: Decorate the Solar System Model

This step is optional, but Lyvi was more than excited to have her name big and bold on the front her model solar system!

We used scrapbook letters that I already had on hand to put her name on the flap on the front of the box.

We also used old Star Wars greeting cards that I had to decorate the side of the box. What kid doesn’t want a Death Star on their galaxy project?

As far as school projects go, this one was pretty fun!

With all 4 of us working on it (it was family affair), we finished this solar system model in a few hours!

And most importantly, Lyvi LOVES it! She said that it was the coolest one in her whole class!

Taking her model solar system to school!
(She was so proud of her solar system project!)

I hope that your model turns out just as great and that you have as much fun making it as we did!

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