Your toddler has just mastered going upstairs and downstairs by himself--is he really ready to learn about the idea of a huge solar system? While it may seem too in depth for his age, your little one is capable of understanding more than you'd think. Since they can see parts of the solar system, namely the sun, moon and earth, an introductory lesson can be appropriate for toddlers. Still, the concept is easier for an older toddler to grasp. Introducing your tot to the idea of space will put him light years (okay, maybe just a little) ahead when he starts school.
The solar system is tricky business for toddlers. Their little minds are still trying to interpret the immediate world around them, so start by teaching them about the parts they can see, such as the sun and the moon. You can also lay on your back in the grass at night and look at the stars. Try explaining that that stars are really just like the sun, they're just farther away and look smaller.
Get crafty by pulling out some stickers, paper mache or styrofoam balls and make a model of the solar system with your child. For those uncrafty moms (shh, we won't tell!), this can be as simple as a drawing on a piece of paper or styrofoam balls tacked onto wire coat hangers. Making this a 3D activity helps kids wrap their minds around such a big concept. At the end of the day, put glow-in-the-dark stickers on the ceiling in the pattern of the solar system and let your toddler ponder the planets as she falls asleep.
Show your tot how the earth turns in relation to the moon and the sun. You can use a globe and flashlight to demonstrate how the earth becomes dark on one side when the sun isn't shining on it. (Do the same for the moon.) Find where he lives on the globe so he can see when it becomes nighttime and when it's time to wake up according to the earth's rotation. Let him be the sun and take turns moving the earth--he'll want to be part of the action. After all, he is a toddler.
As your little one grows older, you can start teaching her the names of the planets in the solar system: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. For older toddlers, try using the anagram, "My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Neptune." (Love how they snuck in a mom compliment on that one.) Once she's familiar with the different planets, she may be ready to learn how they turn and move within the solar system.