This week, we added the final touches to our semester-long astronomy project–a paper mache solar system.

This paper mache solar system was a useful visual reinforcement for my kids as we learned about one planet at a time within our Science curriculum (Apologia: Exploring Creation with Astronomy).  More on Apologia Science at the end of the post.

Here are the project how-tos.

10 Steps to the Ultimate Paper Mache Solar System


#1 Prepare all materials & reference pictures, printed from the Internet, or from  books.  Using balloons, blow up one for each planet. Now, OBVIOUSLY, it will be totally impossible to create to-scale models for this project, so just do your best to put them in size order as you blow them up.  {Did you know that ALL the other planets could fit easily inside Jupiter with room to spare?  Yeah.  So forget exact scale for a while}.

*Note: We did not use a balloon for Pluto.  We just hung a tiny foam ball (as seen further on in the post)  It’s up to you if you want to include Pluto in your Solar System or not.  Most kids will insist on including it if given an option.  Children everywhere tend to feel sorry for it ever since it’s been ousted!

Now–Here is the key to success with this project: you need to do all or most of your planet paper-mache-ing in one fell swoop, like over a weekend.  You do not want to do one at a time, I promise.  Imagine, week after week, starting each planet from scratch…blowing up a balloon, mixing up the paper mache, applying it, waiting for it to dry, adding another layer…waiting again…priming it, THEN, finally, painting it.  You’ll probably give up 2 weeks into it if you do it this way.  Yes, doing all the paper mache at once IS a little more work on the front end, but it is SO worth it when you can pull out the already-dried and primed planet each week and let your little students get right into the fun part–the painting! 

#2 Regular balloons will work fine for the smaller planets.  But, for your larger planets (the 4 gas giants), you’ll want to use those giant bouncy punch-balloons you can buy at the dollar store.  They usually come 3 in a pack, so it’s affordable.  These are the best because they stay perfectly ROUND, and we don’t want pear-shaped planets, right?

#3  Tape down the balloon-tie and paper mache directly over it.  You don’t want to deal with that big hole later on, trust me.

#4  Using newspaper strips dipped in your flour/water mixture, put the first layer of paper mache on all your balloons, and let dry.  One layer at a time only.
Your kids will love this messy business, believe me.
Put them in front of a fan, and it’ll take half the time.  
Once dry, put the second layer of paper mache on them.  Your kids will be kinda tired of paper mache by now so you’ll have to bribe them to help you. 
 Again, let dry completely.
If you REALLY want to ensure that they’ll be nice and strong, put a 3rd layer on and let dry.  I don’t think this is necessary except for the largest 2 planets.  Just don’t expect your kids to help you at all if you do though.  They’ll be totally paper-mache’ed out at this point.

Initially, we only did 2 layers for ours, and whadda ya know? Both my large planets cracked…one was able to be repaired, as it was pretty minor, but one was a do-over…no joke, my 2 year old actually broke Jupiter apart and tried to eat it (?!?!?!?) because he–and I quote, 
“thought it was made-a sugar ‘r sump-tin.”  
Wow. Gotta love toddlers.

Three layers will make your large planets super strong, and you shouldn’t have any cracking.

Evidence of Toddler Havoc.  We found him hiding under the table, taste-testing the irresistibly crunchy pieces of dried paper mache.
#5 Do NOT pop the underlying balloons at any point!  If you do, you’ll be removing all the support, and your 2nd or 3rd layer of wet paper mache will seep into the first (now unsupported) layer and cause it to collapse.  And then you’ll have to re-do it from scratch. I know from experience.  🙂  So no popping the balloons, ok?
Some of our planets, drying on our table
All the planets lined up in order, dried, and ready for spray-priming
#6  Once all the planets are totally dried, spray-prime them all white (I use Kilz or Rustoleum). Trust me, your final painting will go SO much more quickly if you give them a quick priming first.  And you’ll go through a LOT less paint.
Just do them all at once, in a well-ventilated area.  You can do all of them in like 5 minutes.
If you don’t want to use spray paint, use gesso.

#7 Use Acrylic paints for the final painting.  These come is so many beautiful colors, and you can often find them for 50 cents a bottle.  Paint the paper mache planet you’re studying at that time. Discuss it’s features and factoids while you paint.  Use books or the internet for reference pictures.  Try to make it somewhat realistic!

Parents can help by laying out the color scheme for young children, and then letting them do the actual painting. 
 Fun tip: Let your kids sponge a second color over your first color (once it’s dry) for a neat effect.  Kids LOVE sponging paint on!
Silver-painted Mercury, with gold paint sponged on top…and piping hot Venus, which we did yellow, and sponged on some orange and also some black.  
#8  To hang, grab a pile of paper clips, and some clear fishing line.  Use a utility knife to make a small hole at the top of each planet.  Pull the paper clip apart slightly, as shown.  Insert it into the planet, winding and twisting it into place, and leaving the final loop protruding.

#9 Tie on the fishing line and hang your planets, one at a time, as you study it.   Hang it someplace near where you are going to having science class, so the kids can reference it any time they need or want to.  Then watch your solar system grow, week by week.  Fun Tip: Hang a small toy rocket from fishing wire, and move it near each planet as you study it.  Pretend you are blasting off through space visiting those planets one at at time.

#10  Finally, add other fun details to your solar system, like the moon over the earth (paint a foam ball, and run the fishing string through it on a needle).

With our foam-ball Pluto, we took the fishing line right through and back again, then tied a knot and hung it.
We hung the moon over the Earth the same way.  

Want to  make the asteroid belt that is located between Mars and Jupiter?  Break apart a piece of foam into several pieces and paint each piece dark gray. Hang at various heights with fishing line as shown here:

Create the beautiful rings of Saturn with beads and memory wire (secure with additional wire or paper clips around the planet).  We found a pack of larger, rock beads that the kids loved.  We thought they could represent some of Saturn’s shepherd moons.

Add glittery stars (cut from glitter scrapbook paper) onto the fishing line, above, below and around your planets.  These will really jazz up your solar system.  

If you want, add the name of the planets on small strips of stiff paper, and attach to the fishing line using a tiny dab of hot glue.


Stand back and be amazed at your beautiful solar system and all your hard work.  

Be sure to display it someplace where it can be appreciated for a long time.  We plan on eventually moving ours to my daughter’s bedroom.  Maybe we’ll add some glow-in-the-dark stars to the ceiling too.  For now, it can hang in our breakfast room a little while longer.

Hope you enjoyed our solar system tour!

And remember, big projects don’t feel so big when you break them down over a longer period of time.  The end-result, however, will be something you and your children will be very proud of.  

This was a great way for us to display and remember all that we’ve learned in our semester studying Astronomy.


Finally, here is my mini review of Apologia’s EXPLORING CREATION with ASTRONOMY curriculum (and no, I am not being paid in any way for this review).

Really, I can’t say enough about Apologia’s in-depth study approach.  They actually recommend you spend a whole year in each book, but they do give an option for a 1/2 year of study, which is what we chose.

I was fascinated myself as I learned alongside my children these past months.  We spent 5 months studying the sun, moon, stars, galaxies, planets, meteors, and space exploration.  We’re moving on to study Botany the 2nd half of the school year, but it was so great being able to park here in astronomy all these months and really soak into it. From my three year old all the way to me and my husband, everyone in this family enjoyed our trip through space. 🙂  I was encouraged how much my daughter retained as we went along, and how much the 3 and 4 year old “caught” as they helped us do experiments and create our paper mache planets.

Another fantastic feature of Apologia’s Exploring Creation science curriculum is that it can be used to teach students across multiple grade levels.  Their journals are wonderful for retention and provide dozens of experiment and activity ideas, mini-books, space for recording what is being learned, narration prompts, scripture copy work, etc.  Plus, you can buy a traditional journal OR a junior journal.  That means, your 4th grader could use the more advanced journal/ notebook and your 1st grader could do the junior version, and you could all study the same concepts.  We used the junior notebook, which provided dotted lines for young hand-writers, and the two beautiful full coloring pages per chapter.  The options with the journals are just awesome for parents homeschooling more than one child.
We did many of their suggested experiments and activities each week (always from materials found around the house) and in addition, we created the paper mache solar system which always gave my kids something extra to look forward to each week as we studied a new planet.  

The only way I feel this curriculum could be improved is if there were a newer edition, since ours was written more than 10 years ago, and much has happened with space exploration in the past years. 
I am looking forward to our next semester in Botany, and I expect the same level of excellence for the second half of our school year.  

That’s it, ya’ll.  Happy Learning!

11 thoughts on “The Ultimate Paper Mache Solar System

  1. Crafty Homeschool Mama

    Now THAT sounds like fun! My kids would def. have loved filling them with candy and smashing them up, ha! Over a year later, they’re still hanging in our boys’ shared room. This was truly such a fun project for all of us, and I hope you enjoy it too. Good luck! ~Joanna

  2. Crafty Homeschool Mama

    Hi Shauna. By that time, they will probably have deflated a bit on their own. Once the planets’ 2nd LAYERS of paper mache are dry, you’re right–it’s no problem. The first layer is just so thin that if you pop the balloon, which is what is supporting the structure, then slop on wet paper mach, it will almost certainly collapse.
    Good luck! ~Joanna

  3. Shauna Delzingaro

    Hi there.We did the balloon solar system as stated in the book and the very next morning the SUN had popped and Jupiter deflated…Paper Mache is the way to go! I have a question, when you say do not pop the balloon at anytime, does the balloon not pop when inserting the paper clips? Is it a problem at that point once dry? Thank you so much. Our family will benefit from you sharing this!

  4. J. Meinking

    We started the Apologia Astronomy book today and wanted to do something more than their suggested balloon model. My 11-year old daughter thought of making pinata planets, so I found your blog that way. I’m so excited to find your blog with the very lessons that we’re doing now… I can’t wait to put together this project. But we aren’t going to keep our paper mache planets… we’re going to fill them with candy and blast each one open when we study that planet. I have not been so excited about science in several years. Thanks so much for sharing!

  5. themcvays

    This is great! I came by from Trivium Tuesday. I pinned this idea and sent it to the folks in our coop as an idea for a family solar system project. I love my crafty friends, since I do not have a crafty bone in my body. But I am able to follow the instructions of the creative. I’ll be back! 😉

  6. Crafty Homeschool Mama

    oooOoooo, sounds intriguing–can’t wait to see what you two crafty gals are up to. {But what I would really love is to get in on that ocean birthday planning fun with you and E! 😉 We had a good ol’ time with our mermaid and pirate theme the last couple years (kids loved it so much we did it twice, lol). Bday party planning is downright dangerous for me these days with Pinterest!}

  7. pink and green mama MaryLea

    Love the solar system and especially the ring around Saturn! We’ve been slogging away all week on E’s solar system report here too (since Tuesday) but it’s a homemade book not a model. Will share on the blog when it’s all finished! Gluing chunks together today. Fun fun fun. : )

  8. truebritgal

    Thank you so much for explaining the step-by-step instructions on how you created your papier mache solar system, and for all the superb photos! My kids are older, but they have been studying the solar system (Grade 8 Abeka science) so this would be a timely and FUN project for them, which I’m sure they would enjoy! I’ll let you know how it goes. Thanks again, Joanna!

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