Story and photos by Alice Enevoldsen for West Seattle Blog
West Seattle’s own Highland Park Spraypark boasts an opportunity to bring science and math into the end of your summer vacation, painlessly and, in fact, pain-relievingly: while enjoying the cooling sprinklers. The entrance is on SW Cloverdale St and 11th Ave SW, just north of Highland Park Elementary School, and it’s open through Labor Day, 11 am-8 pm.
Depending on your kids’ interests and ages, pick one of the challenges below, don some clothes you don’t mind getting wet, and do the activity with them. If they’re a bit older (especially in the teenage range) and are embarrassed by your presence, you can give them one of the advanced challenges and maybe they’ll be tempted by a snack through Seattle’s Summer Food program, Kids and Teens Eat Free, located in the same park.
Challenge 1: Scavenger Hunt
Find all the planets!
Each planet is a circle of a different color, and has a bronze inlaid symbol identifying it nearby.
That’s an example – the Mars circle and its bronze symbol.
Teacher/Parent/Caregiver hint: The planets are not presented in order, and many of the circles are concentric, as if the planets are stacked on top of each other.
The designers of this spray park chose that this representation of our solar system would not label Pluto, the Sun, or moons and asteroids, so your scavenger hunt is for only eight objects. Here’s your cheat sheet for which symbol identifies which planet:
Note that the spray park uses a different symbol for Uranus:
Challenge 2: Measure the Planets
Measuring tape, ruler, or string (you can also measure with footsteps, arm lengths, or the height of a certain child if you want).
A paper to chart measurements (print this)
Pencil or pen
Even the littlest kids can help measure the planets, but their measurements will not be accurate. Playing at measuring is a great skill for preschoolers and toddlers anyway. Older kids can be prompted to measure more and more precisely. If you have a mix of ages, bring enough rulers or tape measures for each age-group.
Measure the diameter of each planet, and record that measurement on a chart – get it here as a PDF.
How close is this model to being to scale?
How big would the Sun be, if it was to scale with these planets?
I have not finished my own measurement of the planets, so I’d love it if you’d post your findings below.
Teacher/Parent/Caregiver hint: This is the part where kids will get wet, so come prepared and revel in the coolness. If you measure in footsteps or anything other than a standard unit and you want to compare to a scale model of the solar system you’ll have to measure your child’s foot in inches at some point and multiply.
For instance, if Mercury is 5 footsteps across, and your kid’s foot is 7 inches long, then Mercury is 5 footsteps x 7 inches per footstep = 35 inches across.
When you get home, use this Solar System model calculator to see if this model is actually to scale, or not.
On the screenshot below, I’ve outlined in red the parts you need to complete the activity, comparing numbers to a scale model:
First, set the solar system calculator up by putting in the diameter you measured of one of the planets.
Second, click “Calculate.”
Third, read the values in the second-to-last column and compare them to the rest of your measurements.
Challenge 3: Be Creative
There are lots more circles on the spray park than just the eight marked as planets. If you wanted them to represent objects in our solar system, what would they be?
What do the spraying features represent? Are they related to imaginary or real features on the planets?
(Some of the extra circles in the spray park)
Teacher/Parent/Caregiver hint: This is an exercise in creativity, as well as some free-form learning about the planets. You can find plenty of space books at the library to fuel the imagination and learn some of the known features on each planet.
Use Thinkzone’s Solar System Calculator to calculate a scale model of the solar system (full disclosure: This is my dad’s website; clearly, I come by my geekery honestly!)
Who is Alice?
Alice is many things and works and volunteers for a few different notable organizations, but the suggestions and opinions put forth in this article are her own and no-one else’s. You can find more about astronomy at www.alicesastroinfo.com.