19/08/2009 12:20 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Walk The Solar System

There are only a few weeks of summer left. I bet it's getting difficult thinking of new activities to do with the kids, right? Here's an idea which will suit children from about 6 or 7 years old and up: Walking the Solar System. This is a scale model of the solar system which can be done in a park or a field. It can be any length you want, but the minimum length is about 600 metres. Any smaller and some of the planets in the scale model will be so small you couldn't even see them.

I've done this with two of my son's classes, one when he was 6 and again when he was 9. Both times the children AND the teachers were all completely blown away by it as well. Unless you do something like this you have no concept of just how huge the solar system really is.

You will need:

  • 10 ice lolly sticks, one for the Sun, 8 for the planets and one for the Asteroid belt (you'll need 11 if you want to include Pluto)
  • 10 small squares of paper (again, 11 if you want to include Pluto). Each one glued onto one end of the ice lolly sticks. I used fluorescent paper so it could easily be seen as we looked back.
  • Pen, pencil, fine tipped coloured markers, coloured pencils
  • Ruler
How to set up the solar system:

Visit this site and work out the scale of your walk. With my son's schools I made the Sun 150mm and the walk was just over 600m long. Make a note of all the 'walk' measurements between the planets and print it out.

Go to an astronomy site online such as this NASA site and gather up facts about each of the planets, put them all into a document and print that out.

With your pens, pencils or markers draw one 'planet' (it includes the Sun and the asteroid belt) on each stick using the walk measurements you get from the website. Make sure you write the name of the planet on it. For the Asteroid belt you can just draw some very tiny dots all over it. They are tiny so you can't use fat markers. You can just do it in pencil if you want.

Go to the park or a field, somewhere where you have a clear 700m to walk (I used a city map and worked out where in the park I could do it).

Start the walk by sticking the Sun's ice lolly stick in the ground. Notice how tiny the Sun is. Read out some facts about the Sun.

Now look at how many steps you'll need to take to get to Mercury. I covered one metre in two small steps. Before the walk, make sure you work out how many steps you need to take to cover a metre at home with a tape measure.

When you get to Mercury stick the ice lolly stick in the ground and again read out some facts about it.

If there are several of you in the group you can assign one planet to each person and they can be in charge of putting the marker in the ground and reading information out about that planet.

When you get to the Earth at the start of the walk, talk about all of the people you know, all the people you don't know, all the people who have ever lived, all of the battles fought, the people who fell in love, the babies born, the art, the music, the literature and how it's all contained on that one tiny speck.

If you are doing the walk with younger kids, perhaps take a snack and have it at the Asteroid Belt.

If you want you can try and work out where, on this scale, you have to travel to to get to the next star, Proxima Centauri which is 4.2 light years away... We brought a little globe with us, worked out the direction our walk was heading (SE) and guessed that we'd have to travel to somewhere in Indonesia to get to the next star. I'm in London. Basically you have to travel about a third of the way around the Earth at this scale to get to the next planet.

So give it a go and let me know how you got on in the comments below. Not only will your kids enjoy it, but you will, too!