solar system with the sun in the middle and planets on different rings around it

One Small Step: A Multi-Sensory Tour of Our Solar System

A hands-on, multi-sensory tour of the solar system for students who are blind or visually impaired.

For the majority of us Earthlings, the closest we will ever come to experiencing outer space will be through television and pictures.  What if that wasn’t an option?   How else could you get a sense of our solar system and its members?  For students with visual impairments, tactile graphics are one way to show the relative sizes and distances of the planets.  However, tactile graphics do not exhibit the physical presence that models provide.  In an attempt to give greater sense of the environment of space, we created a 3-dimensional mural of the solar system.  

Our models of the celestial bodies had to meet three criteria: in order to adhere it to the wall one side must be flat; the rounded side must accept tempera paint; and to maintain its shape, the interior needs to be filled with a light weight material. A variety of inexpensive plastic bowls were used to cast the models. The largest bowl represented the Sun, the next for Jupiter and Saturn, the third for Uranus and Neptune, and the smallest for Earth and Venus.  Different sized plastic Easter eggs were used for Mars, Mercury and Pluto. 

Next was the casting process.  Three layers of paper mache were used to line the inside of the containers.  Floam* (reconstituted Styrofoam) was poured into the paper mache lined bowls as a filler.  Once the floam set, the hemispheres were removed from the molds and the finishing touches were added.  The paper mache was trimmed and another layer was added to smooth the surface.  A piece of cardboard was taped onto the back, and again paper mache was used to smooth the edges.  The Earth Science students painted their selected planet. To represent their gaseous surfaces, foam sheeting was used to give a different texture to the Sun and the gas giants. Coiled chenille stems were inserted on Jupiter and Neptune to represent their ever present storms. 

The celestial bodies were attached to the wall by using several small sections doubled up high-grade duct tape. For the listening portion of the tour, students read the reports for their selected planets into a digital recording device.  

*Floam recipe can be found at

Tactile Models of Solar System

the Sun and the inner planets
The Sun and the inner planets
The outer planets
The outer planets
Entire solar system
Entire solar system
points of interest
Points of interest
The asteroids are small balls of black construction paper glued to adding machine tape.
The asteroids are small balls of black construction paper glued to adding machine tape.

NGSS Standards:

MS-ESS1: Earth’s Place in the Universe

ESS1.B: Earth and the Solar System

By Sandra Craig

Collage of one small step

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