Activity: A Leap of Space


The Andromeda galaxy, one of our nearest neighbors, is bigger than the Milky Way. It is about 2 million light years away. Children explore how smaller systems exist within larger systems as they build a collage of their place in space!

The Activity

Before You Start:
Invite the children to bring photos of themselves and their families or to draw these images.

Print images of Earth, the solar system, galaxies, and groups of galaxies. Images should be about one-sixth the size of the poster board.

Web sites for useful images:

Ask the children to name the parts of their family. Their answers may vary, but they probably will name brothers, sisters, pets, mothers and fathers, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.

  • Are they part of a family system? Is their family part of a larger group or system?

Their family is part of the community, which is part of the town or city, which is part of the state. In nature, a system is a collection of things that can be organized into a group.  They are related and influence each other.

  • Can they name other, larger systems? What is Earth a part of?
  • What are other parts of the solar system?
  • Are there other solar systems?
  • What are they parts of?
  • What is the biggest system they can think of?

In nature, a system is a group of structures that are related and influence each other. Systems have basic properties and can change over time. Scientists can predict these changes.

Invite the children to make a collage of their place in space by arranging their images in order from the smallest to the largest system. They will discover   that each component is part of a system, and how that system can be a component in a larger system.

Provide each child with a poster board and ask them to divide it into a top and bottom half. Have them divide each half into three equal parts, and number the boxes from 1 to 6.

Poster Board Diagram

Provide the children with a set of images of Earth, the solar system, galaxies, and groups of galaxies. Ask them to place them in order, including the pictures of the children and their families.

  • Which is the smallest component of the system? Largest?
  • What are the components called?
  • How is each a system of the smaller components?
Child What types of systems does the child belong to? (Family system, school system, athletic club, boys or girls club)
is part of  
Family What types of systems does the family belong to? (Larger family system, community pool, club, church or synagogue)
is part of  
Earth What are some of Earth’s systems? What systems does Earth belong to?
is part of  

Solar System

If there are other suns and planets in the universe, why would “our"  nine planets be considered a system? (They all revolve around the same star — our Sun!)
is part of  
Milky Way Galaxy What makes the Milky Way a “system”? ( In our galaxy there are billions of stars — and perhaps other solar systems — grouped together, connected by their gravitational pull on each other)
is part of  
Our Universe! Clusters of galaxies are observed in space. Andromeda is one of the galaxies in our Local Group. There are clusters of clusters of galaxies (superclusters). How many galaxies are there? (Scientists estimate that there are billions of galaxies in our universe; our Milky Way galaxy is only one of many!)
is part of  

Once the children have placed their images in order, have them glue or tape them onto the poster board.  Invite them to place a title for their model of systems on their poster board and to highlight the stars or other parts of their poster with phosphorescent paint.  

Have the children label each component (for example, family or galaxy).

The Magellanic Clouds are two galaxies orbiting our own galaxy about 200,000 light years away.  They can be seen from the southern hemisphere. The Andromeda galaxy can be seen as a small blur of light near the constellation Andromeda.Ask the children to reflect on their place in space.

  • How many galaxies are in our universe?
  • How many stars are in our galaxy?
  • How many stars are in our solar system?
  • How many Earths are there?

Our Earth is an amazing place in the vastness of our galaxy. . . and universe — and each child is a unique individual on our unique, tiny Earth!

Invite the children to display their posters and talk about their systems and systems of systems. Darken the room and enjoy the show!


More Activities

Last updated
January 9, 2007


Ages 8–12

How Long?
60 minutes or more

What's Needed?

• 1 small container of phosphorescent paint (art supply store)
•Web and/or magazine pictures of Earth, the solar system, galaxies, and groups of galaxies

For each child:

• 11” x 17” sheet of white poster board (minimum)
• Scissors
• Crayons or colored pencils
• Pencil
• Glue or tape
•Photo or drawing of himself/herself
• Photo or drawing of his/her family
• Markers or paint
• Ruler

Connections to the National Science Standard(s)

Standards A&D (grades K–4):Develop explanations using observation. Stars have properties and locations that can be observed and described.

Standards A & D (grades 5–8): Develop explanations and models based on observations and communicate scientific explanations.