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Solar System Projects: Mini Clay, Paper Mache, and Yarn Ball

Updated on April 29, 2017

Artistic solar system models can be simple enough for a preschooler or advanced enough for older kids, teens, and adults. The three science project ideas in this article can be used for almost any age level, as you can keep the creations simple or venture to the more elaborate. The learning concepts you add can be as straightforward as the names of the planets or as complex as calculating planet rotation rates. These are fun and cool space projects that everyone will enjoy. As an added bonus, the artwork is so special that you will want to keep it as a tabletop or room decoration.

How to Make a Mini Clay Solar System

My 12-year-old daughter is a mini clay food artist, so I commissioned her to use some basic clay techniques to make a mini solar system. The methods she uses are easy to learn. Some that she demonstrated are:

  • using craft sand for texture (Sun),
  • using a ball tool to create craters (Mercury),
  • twisting and folding clay for a swirled effect (Venus, Mars, and Saturn),
  • cutting out clay shapes (Earth and Jupiter),
  • scraping powder from chalk pastels to add another layer of color (Uranus), and
  • mixing two clay colors for a marbling effect (Neptune).

Using the instructions below, you can make your own.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Our mini clay solar system.The Sun.Mercury.Venus.Earth.Mars.Jupiter.Saturn.Uranus.Neptune.
Our mini clay solar system.
Our mini clay solar system.
The Sun.
The Sun.
Mercury.
Mercury.
Venus.
Venus.
Earth.
Earth.
Mars.
Mars.
Jupiter.
Jupiter.
Saturn.
Saturn.
Uranus.
Uranus.
Neptune.
Neptune.

Supplies:

  • tile, cutting board, or another smooth surface to work on
  • oven-bake polymer clay: black and assorted colors
  • orange craft sand
  • royal blue chalk pastel
  • clay tools* - ball stylus tools, clay cleaning tool (looks like a mini chisel), clay blade, mini circle cutter
  • small paintbrush
  • black floral wire
  • wire cutters*
  • pliers*
  • parchment paper
  • cookie sheet
  • glue

*Younger children will need adult supervision with any sharp tools.

Instructions:

  1. Create the sun, base, and eight planets as shown in the photos above. The chart below will give you ideas for clay colors and techniques you may want to use to create your own designs.
  2. The planets will be attached to the black base with the floral wire, so cut eight pieces of wire in ascending lengths as shown in the picture below. Attach Mercury to the shortest wire, and Neptune to the longest to accurately depict each planet's distance from the Sun. Each remaining planet should be paired with the wire that corresponds to its distance from the Sun.
  3. Using pliers, bend one end of each wire up (about 1/2 inch) to form a right angle so that it will hold a clay planet.
  4. Follow the layout of planets in the picture below or play around with your own design.
  5. Once you decide on the placement of the planets, stick the straight end of the shortest wire in the base and attach Mercury to the other end. Repeat the process for the other wires and planets. If one side of the model is leaning over, you may have to rearrange them.
  6. Before baking, remove the planets from the wires and set aside with the Sun. Place the black base with attached wires on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Follow the baking instructions for the clay you are using. (We used Sculpey clay and baked for 15 minutes at 275 degrees.)
  7. Let the base cool, and then add the planets to the wires. Place the Sun on the cookie sheet, but not on the base. Again, follow baking instructions for the clay you used. (We baked for 15 more minutes at 275 degrees.) Let cool.
  8. Once the solar system model is cooled, you can add the Sun to the base. For extra durability, you can glue it to the base.

Assembling Your Project

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Use wire cutters to cut floral wire into 8 pieces, with each piece a little longer than the one before.Use pliers to bend one end of each wire up so that it will support a clay planet.Match wires to corresponding planets and attach to base.  Be careful to balance out the weight of the planets.  Follow baking instructions.
Use wire cutters to cut floral wire into 8 pieces, with each piece a little longer than the one before.
Use wire cutters to cut floral wire into 8 pieces, with each piece a little longer than the one before.
Use pliers to bend one end of each wire up so that it will support a clay planet.
Use pliers to bend one end of each wire up so that it will support a clay planet.
Match wires to corresponding planets and attach to base.  Be careful to balance out the weight of the planets.  Follow baking instructions.
Match wires to corresponding planets and attach to base. Be careful to balance out the weight of the planets. Follow baking instructions.

Planet Color and Technique Guide

Planet
Clay Colors
Techniques
Mercury
grey, silver
add dots for craters
Venus
orange, gold, brown, yellow
swirl colors
Earth
blue, green, white
cut out land masses and ice caps
Mars
red, orange, brown
swirl colors; craft sand or chalk pastel powder for red dust; rocky texture for volcanoes, canyons and craters
Jupiter
orange, red, gold, beige, white
stripes; small red circle for the Great Red Spot
Saturn
beige, moss green, white, black, gold
swirl colors for planet; striped rings
Uranus
light blue, white
solid light blue or blue and white mix; brush on powder from darker blue chalk pastel; thin white rings
Neptune
dark blue, royal blue, white
solid blue or mix in a little white with blue for a marbling effect

How to Make Paper Mache Planets

Amazing pieces of art can be made from simple ingredients such as paper, flour, water, balloons, and paint. Round planets are the perfect subject for a basic paper mache. Who doesn't love tearing paper, feeling the gluey goo, and painting? It is a messy, long process, but the results are spectacular. The finished products can be suspended from the ceiling in your child's bedroom. Follow the instructions below to make your own.

Finished paper mache project.
Finished paper mache project.

Supplies:

  • balloons
  • old magazines or newspapers
  • flour
  • water
  • salt
  • large bowl or tray
  • whisk or large spoon
  • string
  • acrylic paint, assorted colors
  • paintbrush
  • poster board

Instructions:

  1. Blow up eight balloons for the eight planets. Make sure they are to scale!
  2. In a large bowl or tray, mix flour and water into a soupy glue-like substance.
  3. Mix in a little salt to prevent molding.
  4. Tie a piece of string to the knot of one balloon.
  5. Rip magazine pages or newspaper into 1 1/2 inch wide strips of varying lengths.
  6. Soak a strip of paper in the flour mixture and wipe excess liquid off by sliding between your fingers or between your finger and the side of the bowl or tray.
  7. Apply the wet strip to the balloon.
  8. Continue to add soaked paper strips until the balloon is completely covered.
  9. Hang balloon from a rod to dry. Protect the floor with paper or an old bed sheet.
  10. Repeat steps 4-9 for each balloon. Let dry for 24 hours.
  11. Repeat the process and add a second layer of paper to each balloon. Let dry for 24 hours.
  12. Repeat the process and add a third layer of paper to each balloon. Let dry for 24 hours.
  13. Paint each balloon to resemble the planet it represents.
  14. The rings of Saturn and Uranus can be painted on or made from poster board. (We painted rings directly on Uranus, but painted striped rings on poster board for Saturn.)
  15. Let planets dry for 24 hours, and then pop the balloons with a pin near the balloon knot.

How to Paper Mache and Paint the Planets

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Mix flour, water, and a little salt to make a soupy glue mixture.Saturate the paper strip and wipe off excess liquid.Apply the strips to completely cover the balloon.Hang paper mache planets to dry. Protect the floor with newspaper or an old bed sheet.Blue metallic acrylic paint looks really neat for Planet Earth.Red metallic acrylic paint "rocks" for Mars, the Red Planet.Let paint dry before adding another color.Paint swirls, strips, circles, and rings to complete your planets.
Mix flour, water, and a little salt to make a soupy glue mixture.
Mix flour, water, and a little salt to make a soupy glue mixture.
Saturate the paper strip and wipe off excess liquid.
Saturate the paper strip and wipe off excess liquid.
Apply the strips to completely cover the balloon.
Apply the strips to completely cover the balloon.
Hang paper mache planets to dry. Protect the floor with newspaper or an old bed sheet.
Hang paper mache planets to dry. Protect the floor with newspaper or an old bed sheet.
Blue metallic acrylic paint looks really neat for Planet Earth.
Blue metallic acrylic paint looks really neat for Planet Earth.
Red metallic acrylic paint "rocks" for Mars, the Red Planet.
Red metallic acrylic paint "rocks" for Mars, the Red Planet.
Let paint dry before adding another color.
Let paint dry before adding another color.
Paint swirls, strips, circles, and rings to complete your planets.
Paint swirls, strips, circles, and rings to complete your planets.

Tips:

  • After blowing up the balloons, write the name of each planet on them to prevent a mix-up. Hang the planets to dry in order as well.
  • For the last layer of paper mache, use plain white copy paper so less paint will be needed.
  • Metallic and glitter acrylic paints work well for this space project.
  • Use fishing line if you decide to hang your completed project from the ceiling—it's nearly invisible!

How to Make a Yarn Ball Solar System

Yarn or string balls make beautiful holiday ornaments, but they also make really cool planets. To display this decorative project, hang the Sun from the center of a large round piece of cardboard. Hang the planets in orbit around it. Another idea is to hang them from a wooden dowel in order of their distance from the Sun. Follow these instructions to create a fantastic yarn ball solar system:

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Our completed yarn ball solar system project.The SunMercuryVenusEarthMarsJupiterSaturnUranusNeptune
Our completed yarn ball solar system project.
Our completed yarn ball solar system project.
The Sun
The Sun
Mercury
Mercury
Venus
Venus
Earth
Earth
Mars
Mars
Jupiter
Jupiter
Saturn
Saturn
Uranus
Uranus
Neptune
Neptune

Supplies:

  • yarn, assorted colors
  • water balloons or other small balloons
  • tacky glue
  • water
  • large bowl or tray
  • paintbrush
  • glitter, assorted colors
  • wax paper

How to Make Yarn Balls Step-by-Step Pictures

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Select yarn colors for each planet. Use the planet color chart from the mini clay project above.Blow up 8 water balloons in sizes to represent the planets.  Blow up a larger balloon for the Sun.Mix white tacky glue with a little water to form a runny glue mixture.Paint glue mixture onto the balloon.Wrap string around the balloon and then soak the yarn ball in the glue mixture by pressing down on the balloon.Use a paintbrush to saturate thick areas of string.Add glitter while the yarn is still wet.Hang yarn balls over wax paper or newspaper to dry for 24 hours.Once dry, pop the balloon with a pin and pick the balloon pieces out with your fingers or tweezers.Completed yarn ball planet
Select yarn colors for each planet. Use the planet color chart from the mini clay project above.
Select yarn colors for each planet. Use the planet color chart from the mini clay project above.
Blow up 8 water balloons in sizes to represent the planets.  Blow up a larger balloon for the Sun.
Blow up 8 water balloons in sizes to represent the planets. Blow up a larger balloon for the Sun.
Mix white tacky glue with a little water to form a runny glue mixture.
Mix white tacky glue with a little water to form a runny glue mixture.
Paint glue mixture onto the balloon.
Paint glue mixture onto the balloon.
Wrap string around the balloon and then soak the yarn ball in the glue mixture by pressing down on the balloon.
Wrap string around the balloon and then soak the yarn ball in the glue mixture by pressing down on the balloon.
Use a paintbrush to saturate thick areas of string.
Use a paintbrush to saturate thick areas of string.
Add glitter while the yarn is still wet.
Add glitter while the yarn is still wet.
Hang yarn balls over wax paper or newspaper to dry for 24 hours.
Hang yarn balls over wax paper or newspaper to dry for 24 hours.
Once dry, pop the balloon with a pin and pick the balloon pieces out with your fingers or tweezers.
Once dry, pop the balloon with a pin and pick the balloon pieces out with your fingers or tweezers.
Completed yarn ball planet
Completed yarn ball planet

Instructions:

  1. Blow up nine balloons to represent the Sun and eight planets.
  2. In a bowl or tray, mix glue with a little water to make it runny.
  3. Paint a balloon with the glue mixture.
  4. Twirl a piece of yarn around the balloon's knot and hold it in place.
  5. With your other hand, wrap the yarn around the balloon crisscrossing vertically many times.
  6. Start wrapping horizontally and then in all directions until the balloon is mostly covered.
  7. Tie yarn in a knot with the starting piece that is wrapped the balloon's knot.
  8. Leave enough excess yarn to hang the balloon up to dry.
  9. Soak the yarn-covered balloon in the glue mixture. Use a paintbrush to dab and saturate the thicker areas of yarn.
  10. Sprinkle glitter all over the yarn ball.
  11. Hang to dry over wax paper to protect your floors.
  12. Repeat the process for the rest of the balloons.
  13. Let dry for 24 hours.
  14. Once completely dry, pop the balloons with a pin or toothpick.
  15. Remove balloon pieces with your fingers or tweezers.
  16. To create Saturn's rings, follow the step-by-step pictures below.

How to Make Saturn's Rings

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5. Once dry, peel off rings and slide over the yarn ball planet.1. On wax paper, trace an outline of the Saturn yarn ball's middle section.2. Paint some glue mixture around the traced circle and add glitter. Pipe yarn along the circle to form the inner edge of the rings.  Glue another circle of yarn to form the outer edge, and zig zag yarn between the two edges.3. Add a top layer of yarn to resemble striped rings.  I used multi-colored yarn - dark brown, light brown and white.4. With a paintbrush, paint the rings until saturated.  Add more glitter and let dry for 24 hours.
5. Once dry, peel off rings and slide over the yarn ball planet.
5. Once dry, peel off rings and slide over the yarn ball planet.
1. On wax paper, trace an outline of the Saturn yarn ball's middle section.
1. On wax paper, trace an outline of the Saturn yarn ball's middle section.
2. Paint some glue mixture around the traced circle and add glitter. Pipe yarn along the circle to form the inner edge of the rings.  Glue another circle of yarn to form the outer edge, and zig zag yarn between the two edges.
2. Paint some glue mixture around the traced circle and add glitter. Pipe yarn along the circle to form the inner edge of the rings. Glue another circle of yarn to form the outer edge, and zig zag yarn between the two edges.
3. Add a top layer of yarn to resemble striped rings.  I used multi-colored yarn - dark brown, light brown and white.
3. Add a top layer of yarn to resemble striped rings. I used multi-colored yarn - dark brown, light brown and white.
4. With a paintbrush, paint the rings until saturated.  Add more glitter and let dry for 24 hours.
4. With a paintbrush, paint the rings until saturated. Add more glitter and let dry for 24 hours.

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    • profile image

      Abdullah 13 months ago

      I love this

    • profile image

      melissa 2 years ago

      My son will be in second grade next fall.. I plan to help him make the yarn solar system.. I saw the model in commercial.. And found the steps here.. THANKS!!!

    • profile image

      gabby 3 years ago

      love the idees

    • profile image

      Yassin 4 years ago

      we used these colors to paint

    • profile image

      Bailey 4 years ago

      I love the progects

    • profile image

      mwaxy masiye 4 years ago

      this is so cool i really am gonna do the papier mache for my science project

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

      These are super examples of solar system projects, and your daughter really is a mini clay artist! This will be helpful to many students who want to do a science fair project on our solar system and I can see a young mom adapting these ideas to make a mobile for her babies/toddlers.

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
      Author

      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      Thanks, Alissa. Yes, these would be perfect for science fair projects!

    • alissaroberts profile image

      Alissa Roberts 5 years ago from Normandy, TN

      Wow! Seriously these will make some awesome science fair projects! I am definitely pinning this one cause I am sure in about 3-4 years my son will need one of these ideas for school. Very impressive hub - voted up and over!

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
      Author

      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      Hi, cardelean. Yes, I think these can be easily incorporated into the classroom. The polymer clay is great for fine motor skills.

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
      Author

      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      Hi, teaches12345. Yes, kids will love making them. My two are still admiring their work.

    • cardelean profile image

      cardelean 5 years ago from Michigan

      What a fun and educational activity! Your video was great to demonstrate how easily the planets can be molded by a child. Perfect activity to a classroom!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      This is a very well written and designed hub. I love the project and you have done a fantastic job with the planet models. This would be so fun to do with kids.

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
      Author

      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      Thanks, clevercat! The color guide shows the colors that most people associate with the planets, but I bet some crazy neon colors would be cool for the paper mache planets or even the mini clay model. You can add your own flair to any of these projects.

    • theclevercat profile image

      Rachel Vega 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      I LOVE the color guide!!! And the yarn balls. (They are on my "to do" list.) What a wonderful video, too. This is simply a terrific hub. Useful, awesome, beautiful, G+, and Pinterest! Really cool and excellent job.

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
      Author

      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      Hi, cclitgirl. Yes, we have a full-fledged galaxy around here now! Maybe I should start selling some of this on Ebay.....just kidding!

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Um...do you have planets hanging all over your house now? Hehe. This is a really cool hub! Wow! I can't believe the time this all must have taken. Your kiddos are glad, I'm sure, though. They got a chance to do all this with you! Fabulous job and I kept staring over and over at the pictures.

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image
      Author

      Sarah Johnson 5 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      Thanks, Crystal. They were a blast to make!

    • Crystal Tatum profile image

      Crystal Tatum 5 years ago from Georgia

      Simply awesome. Voted up and shared.