Pinhole Viewer

The Great American Eclipse is almost here and this pinhole viewer is a super easy way to watch the moon travel in front of the sun.  Here in California, we will only get about 75% totality but we will get to experience the crescent shapes that the sun will make.  So how do we make this pinhole viewer?  Grab a shoebox and read on!

Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

  • shoebox
  • scissors
  • box cutter
  • aluminum foil
  • white and black paper
  • tape
  • nail

To Make the pinhole viewer:

You will need to cut two holes on the small side of your shoebox.  One will be a small viewing hole and the other is a larger hole where the pinhole will be.  I used a box cutter for this step and let the kids finish off with the scissors.

Large hole for pinhole

Left hole = pinhole, right hole = viewing hole

Next, open the box and tape white paper opposite from the side the viewing holes were cut.  This is where you will see the light from the sun and the change in shape as the moon passes in front.

Cut a square piece of foil that will cover the larger hole that you made.  Tape it over the hole.

Using a nail, poke a hole in the center of the foil.

Our box had some extra holes in it that might allow extra light.  These need to be covered up.

Tape black paper over any holes in the box that might allow extra light in.

That’s it!  You’re done.

How to use it:

Test it out by standing with your back to the sun and look into the viewing hole.  Angle the box until you see a bright white circle inside.  That’s the image of the sun.  During the eclipse, you will see the circle change in shape to a crescent.

Other ways to experience the eclipse:

Use a strainer or criss cross your hands together so there are holes in between your fingers that allow light through.  During the eclipse, you will watch these circle of light change shape.

REMEMBER: NEVER look directly at the sun!  It can permanently damage your eyes and your eyesight.

Science Behind the Activity:

A total solar eclipse is a rare event where the sun and the moon and the Earth line up just perfectly so that the moon’s shadow completely covers the sun and only the halo of light around the sun (the corona) is visible.  A solar eclipse can only occur when we have a “new moon”.  By contrast, a lunar eclipse occurs only during a full moon and that occurs when the Earth’s shadow comes in between the moon and the sun to block sunlight from hitting the moon.

I used the following models to help my young kids understand what is happening.  Note that these are not scientifically accurate with respect to size and distance but for very young kids, this is about all they can process.

Partial Solar Eclipse (Idea from: TeachersPayTeachers)

Total Solar Eclipse (Idea from: TeachersPayTeachers)

This shows how the Earth moves around the sun and the moon moves around the Earth

If you are lucky enough to see a total solar eclipse, you will be able to view the sun with your eyes only during the 2-3 minutes of totality (the moon’s shadow covering the sun completely).  Otherwise, during a partial solar eclipse, you can not view it any time without special solar glasses or else you can permanently damage your eyes.

For more Information:

Fizzing Jupiter

For those of you who follow my activities, you know how much I love my baking soda and vinegar experiments.  To be fair, the tots and my littlest superhero LOVE baking soda and vinegar so it’s not ALL about me 🙂

This one is a simple and easy addition to your space theme.  I call them Jupiters (even though my color mixing wasn’t as successful as Jupiter) but you could make them any planet or leave them white for the moon.

Here’s what you need to get started:

  • Baking Soda
  • Water
  • Measuring cup
  • Large Mixing Bowl
  • Tray for drying the rocks
  • Vinegar
  • Black or purple food coloring (optional – but colors make everything more fun!!)


To make the planet:

Combine 2 cups of baking soda and 1/2 cup of water (add the desired color to the water) in a large bowl.  To make the the Jupiters, I split this into two bowls, one with red (looked orange) and one with yellow.

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Then I mixed both together to get an orange-yellow swirly Jupiter look.  Kind of.


Using your hands, take a handful and roll into a ball.  If it’s too dry, it won’t stay together, if it’s too watery, it will melt into a sloppy puddle.  Add water or more baking soda to adjust the consistency.  


Let them dry overnight.  I placed mine in a plastic container and put them in the freezer to harden. 

The next morning, the planets were hard.    Note: this recipe will yield about 10 balls.

To explore:

I gave each little one a “Jupiter” and a cup with vinegar that had black food coloring and some silver glitter (“Starry Space Juice” is what I called it!).


The tots definitely know what to do with the dropper and the vinegar.  Space juice was added to the planets for some fizzy fun!

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Such an easy and simple little experiment to set up!

To see my other “fizzing” experiments (perfect for any holiday), click on any of the following links:

Science behind the Activity:

This is a twist on the classic baking soda and vinegar experiment.  Baking soda is a base and vinegar is an acid.  When combined, they release carbon dioxide gas (the bubbles).  The fizzing and bubbles are just way too much fun for the kiddos!

Here’s where I got my fizzy idea from:





Galaxy in a Bottle

So this isn’t really a science experiment but I LOVE discovery bottles and this one is so pretty!  My older boys really enjoyed making this and it led to discussions about supernovas and galaxies and nebulae.  The tots in my class enjoyed the pretty swirly colors and filling the bottles.

Here’s what you need to get started:

  • cotton balls – almost a bag per bottle
  • empty bottles (I used old gatorade bottles)
  • paint in “galaxy colors” (we used metallic acrylic paint in purple, silver and blue)
  • glitter
  • straw (or something to push the cotton balls into the bottle)
  • cups


First, create the colors of your galaxy by adding some paint to water.  We used metallic blue, metallic purple and metallic gray.  We love how swirly the water looked!

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Next we stuffed our bottle about 1/2 full with cotton balls.  (It looks prettier if you shred the cotton balls, but my boys and the tiny tots don’y have the patience for that!)  We used a straw to help push the balls into the bottle.


Next, add your first color to the bottle.


Add some glitter.  (We probably should have added more)


We noticed that as soon as the water was added, the cotton squished into a smaller layer.  So add lots of cotton! Like we did on the second layer.


We again added a new color to the cotton.  And more glitter.  Make sure to push the cotton down as tight as you can.

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We repeated it again with the last layer.


Then we added the lid and shook it a bit.


The puffy cotton looks like the “clouds” of space debris you see when you look at pictures of galaxies, nebulae, supernovas, etc… The glitter looks like stars in the night sky…


While we were making these bottles, my boys asked me what a galaxy was and what a supernova was.  It was a great art activity to open up discussion about outer space.  While not a real science experiment, it sparked a science conversation.  It my book, that’s success!

For more details and to see where I got this simple, but fantastic idea from, please visit:


Pie Plate Model of Earth’s Orbit

**Updated! 10/18/2016**

I have been meaning to to do a space themed lesson for a long time but was struggling to get some science activities (not just crafts) for the youngest set to do.  I finally “landed” on this one and it was fantastic fun and so easy to do!

Here’s what you need to get started:

  • Foil pie plates (must be round)
  • Black construction paper
  • Orange construction paper
  • Star stickers
  • Blue Marble (or blue-green, to represent Earth)
  • Glue
  • Scissors


Since the tots in my class are pretty young, I measured out the bottom of the pie plates and cut out black circles for them.  I also cut out the orange circles to represent the sun.  For preschoolers and kindergarteners, I would definitely trace the circles for them but have them cut them out on their own.  For older kids, they can trace and cut on their own.


Glue the large black circle to the inside of the plate.  This represents space.


Next, glue the orange circle to the center of the plate.  This represents the sun.


Place some stickers all over the black paper to represent the starts in the sky. As was noted by a fellow science teacher, there are no stars in our solar system except for the Sun.  To make this activity scientifically accurate, you might just want to skip the star stickers.


Lastly, add the blue marble and spin the plate so that the marble spins around the edge of the plate, representing how the Earth spins around the sun.


That’s it!  It’s a craft, but there’s plenty of learning (and fun) while spinning the plate.

The Science behind the Activity:

There are plenty of models of the solar system but I love how this is so simple for young kids to understand that the Earth is moving around the sun and not the other way around.  This same project could be done with the Earth in the center and a white marble to symbolize the moon spinning around the Earth.

To see where I got this simple but fantastic idea from, please visit:

*My only note on the original author’s post is that scientifically it’s not accurate to place 8 marbles in the pie dish to represent all 8 planets orbiting the sun.  The sizes of the orbits are very different and the planets would be showing that they are crashing into each other.  But her idea is great for showing one orbit at a time.*

**Updated: Skip the star stickers if you want to be scientifically accurate.  There are no stars in our solar system.  The only star in our solar system is our sun.**