Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Jupiter Has Gas

No. Really. It does. Jupiter is a gas giant. My third grader thinks that is hilarious. The word gas is stop-the-world funny at her age. For me, the word is more of a painful metaphor than a humorous one. Gas equals discomfort of the belly or the wallet, depending on whether I'm thinking of indigestion or the price of a fillup at the pump.

But when you're eight years old, or around that age, gas is comedy. And Jupiter being a gas giant can bring you to tears. I mean, really. Could you imagine bunking with Jupiter at camp?

Our youngest child recently had her long awaited turn with the third grade planet project. Basically, the teacher has the children draw planets from a hat, and then they skip home with the single sheet of instructions (rules) that will guide the child in discovering the wonders of our amazing solar system by building a desktop sized model of their chosen planet. This would be the third planet to be born on our dining room table in as many years. One of the pluses of having children in three consecutive grades is that you start to get good at parenting the projects. You become a veteran, you’ve had field experience. You’ve made some mistakes, but you’ve learned from them.

Planet number one at our house was basically a soccer sized Styrofoam ball smothered in a thick coat of paper glue to prevent the finishing coat of red paint from eating the planet. Polar ice caps were added with white Play-Doh. The planet sat upon a small black circular stand borrowed from a shelved astronomy kit. Planet number two the following year utilized the same stand, but substituted a friendlier brush-on paint that wouldn't consume the planet. The twist with this model was a light feature that my middle child dreamed up herself. The planet would glow with beautiful light, accomplished by placing a small battery powered LED light in the stand that would shine up and into the hollowed out Styrofoam ball. Have you ever hollowed out a soccer sized Styrofoam ball? Neither has my daughter. Dad got to empty the Styrofoam pumpkin, due to the requirement of sharp, steel and pointy things. Messy, messy, messy.

With the arrival of planet number three, Dad thought he pretty much had this down. Different name, different color, but basically a painted ball on a stand. I knew which store and which aisle to hit. I still had the stand. I was even prepared to talk down any suggested light features. But child number three dances to a different drummer. She was totally prepared to recreate the entire process, to switch up the media. It was a new day, a new planet, and a new vision was called for. So I let her imagination run with her spindly legs down row after row of that craft store. We considered new and wonderful options to the beloved Styrofoam. We looked at wood: blocks, dowels, and boards. We considered clay and clay-like products. Some which never hardened. Some which hardened overnight. Some which only hardened when you baked it like a tray of chocolate chip cookies. We browsed, touched, held, weighed, and even dropped a few things. After more than an hour of discussing, debating, dreaming, re-debating, and finally deciding, we left the store with a bagged Styrofoam ball, assorted colors of paint (Jupiter is striped) and a thick black poster board which would replace the old-school black circular stand of the previous two planets.

So, with minimal parental assistance, Jupiter came to be, red spots and all, completed by bedtime and set on a counter to dry. Jupiter, bolted into still life orbit over a poster board night of paint-dotted stars. Jupiter, the gas giant.

"Hey Jupiter. Did you enjoy those beans?"

"If Jupiter had a finger, would you pull it?"

It's true. Learning about the solar system can be fun and even funny, if you let your third grade sense of humor out for a long overdue play date. You should have heard the jokes last year when our middle child was talked into trading Venus away for Uranus. It really is a pretty planet. It’s also pretty funny.


  1. Thanks for the giggle - sometimes after reading the news, I almost forget how!

  2. a friend of mine reckons that school projects are designed to educate parents

    at any rate, I have learnt a few things about interesting topics that I wouldn't have gotten around to. (just ask me about William Wilberforce or the history of logarithsm!)