This board book about planets has been a favorite for both of my kids as toddlers. Perhaps it’s because it folds out in a cool way. Perhaps it’s because the pictures show big colorful balls. Or perhaps it’s at least a little bit because humans are born with an innate curiosity about our place in the universe.
Research has shown that the socioeconomic “achievement gap” in schools is in a large part related to lack of vocabulary exposure in young children. In fact, kids growing up in middle class homes will know approximately 2,000 more words than kids growing up in homes in the bottom 25% income range. This “vocabulary gap” has repeatedly resulted in higher test scores, better grades, lower drop-out rates, etc. for middle class students. Of course, teaching new words at home can be done by all interested parents and caregivers, regardless of income! Vocabulary is a KEY part of early learning!
Space is full of great vocabulary words! The names of planets are a fun place to start, and kids as young as 2 will have a curiosity about what it’s like on each planet. (My son initially confused “Venus” with “Penis”, but since they are both scientific terms, I let it go for a while.)
Learn Where We Live:
By preschool age, kids are starting to get a sense of where they live. It starts with their family, their home, their neighborhood, etc. I was amazed at how my 3-yr-old son could tell me where we were going based on which way I turned on streets. His worldview was quickly expanding from his house and street to an understanding of where he was located relative to the whole town!
Learning that we live on the planet Earth is an easy next step. Young children may not understand the huge scale of the solar system (I mean, who does, really? It still blows my mind, and I’ve been teaching this stuff in the classroom for 10 years!), but they can identify our home planet in a line-up!
Learn to Observe the World Around Us:
I was probably 7 or 8 before I started really thinking deeply about the universe, but the night sky has always amazed me. “Moon” was one of my kids’ first 10 words. (Probably because I started pointing it out from the moment they could lift their head!) They would look up and point at the full moon bright in the sky and say “moooo.” They still love to find it up in the sky and are now old enough to notice that it is not always the same shape. (Early on, they thought that every round light above was the “moooo,” but now they are able to differentiate between overhead lights and the real “moooo.”)
Kids are never too young to start observing things in the sky. Even if you live in a city full of light pollution, you can at least see the moon and a few of the brightest stars. (The planet Venus is easy to see since it’s our closest neighbor planet. It is often the brightest object in the sky at dawn or dusk, depending on the time of year. There are some great apps for Android and iPhone that help to identify what you are seeing in the night sky at your location.)
Learn an Appreciation for the Environment:
I believe that an environmental conscience can develop very early in children. An understanding that we live on the planet Earth, and that Earth is special is an important place to start when teaching kids about caring for the environment. Our land is not infinite, and our planet is ever-changing. Looking at pictures of the planets in our solar system provides a great visual to how special Earth really is! It’s got all this blue water, and wispy white clouds, and green forests…all things that are essential to keeping life alive! This kind of appreciation will help kids develop an empathy for our planet and make them want to help take care of it.