We took our first long road trip this summer with our toddler astronomonsters. If we were to drive straight through, it would be five hours to get to our destination. With toddlers, we couldn’t exactly drive straight through for five hours, so we made some stops at playgrounds, planned to do some driving during naptime, and when they were awake and bored, we had some new, cheap toys for them to play with. However, with astronomonsters, sometimes regular toys won’t do. A small ball and a Frisbee ring were combined to make Saturn, but there’s not much you can do with this kind of Saturn in a car beyond setting it up and declaring it to be Saturn, so interest was soon lost.
The best road toy we found for them was a pack of cheap, colored balloons and a Sharpie. With those, we made Balloon Planets.
A red balloon with circles drawn on it to represent polar ice caps, a heavy squiggle for Valles Marineris, and a series of circles to represent Olympus Mons became Mars. A yellow balloon with a series of rings around its center and a hexagon on top became Saturn. And so on. We had the whole solar system going—well, the Sun and eight planets, anyway. The only problem we ran into was that of the balloons falling down out of reach. Astronomonster #1 especially found this to be traumatic. He wanted to hold them all on his lap—ALL of them at once. Solution: twine or string to tie them all in a line.
Slightly older astronomonsters might have fun decorating their own balloons, but then you’d have to be able to trust them with permanent markers. Washable markers smudge too much. I also found that the pearlized balloons didn’t take color as well as other balloons and tended to smudge.
After returning from our trip, I had to prepare for some Moon shows for the planetarium. One was a kids’ show, so I wanted to have some Moon balloons for them to play with. Using white balloons and Letraset permanent twin-tip Promarkers, I made several Moon balloons like the one pictured left. The balloons I used for the Moon was a plain white, helium-quality balloon.
With a variety of colored Sharpies or Promarkers, you could get pretty detailed with your planets and moons…but then, balloons are fairly short-lived. Regardless, they’re fun to make, especially if you need some special spacey balloons for a kid’s birthday party.