Yes we’re still slightly space made – after last week’s Solar System Poetry and the DIY Puffy Paint and Moon art we’re creating our own DIY Mars Rover and welcoming Heather from Books and Giggles to Rainy Day Mum to share this fun and fantastic space-based craft for kids. Right away, I knew my kids would love Max Goes to Mars. It’s a vividly illustrated picture book about an astronaut dog who explores Mars.
My 5-year old daughter is almost as excited about space and puppies as she is about macaroni and cheese. Her twin sister has her own interests, but is also interested in learning about the different planets. My 9-year old son likes hearing about the latest achievements in space exploration.
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About Max Goes to Mars
The storyline in Max Goes to Mars is well developed, with a few exciting twists and turns. It’s perfect for kids, like my girls, who’re ready for longer picture books. It’s also appropriate for older children seeking a break from chapter books.
Interestingly, author Jeffrey Bennett is an astrophysicist. You’d never believe it reading his engaging storybooks, but he’s also written college textbooks on astronomy and astrobiology. In Max Goes to Mars Bennett has taken great care to depict a research-based, plausible future of space travel.
As a former middle school reading teacher, I’m always on the lookout for good fiction-nonfiction book pairings. Each genre supports comprehension in the other, helping kids get a little deeper in their understanding.
So I was excited to find that Dr. Bennett has woven fiction and nonfiction into one book. Each page has a sidebar with factual information related to the unfolding story. My 9 year old son went back and read them all after he enjoyed the fictional tale. The sidebars were too advanced for my 5-year-olds, but they did teach me a thing or two!
The story opens with Max and his teenage owner on earth. They learn that Max has been selected to accompany the first human spaceflight to Mars. He’ll help keep the astronauts’ spirits up on the long journey.
After preparations on Earth, during which we learn a bit more about Mars, Max and the crew launch. On Mars, they begin exploring the red planet. We learn that our space dog has another role there. He has a special spacesuit that allows him to sniff for signs of life.
My kids loved following along with the excitement of exploring a new planet, and the suspense of wondering what Max might find.
DIY Mars Rover
Once the idea of space travel to Mars has captivated your child’s imagination, you may like to craft a scene for imaginary play. The detailed illustrations in the book are a big help.
The Mars rover imagined for Max goes to Mars is cylindrical with a bubble of a window at the front. A tube! That’s easy to craft. The window, though, stumped me until I ran across one of these:
I bet you have one at the bottom of your toy box. If not, you have a good reason to say “yes” the next time your child begs for a cheap vending machine toy.
Instructions for DIY Mars Rover
Get a toilet paper tube and cut the side hatch doors out carefully with a craft knife.
The kids can do this next step: paint the tube inside and out. Let dry. Meanwhile, find Lego wheels and a base for them. They don’t have to match perfectly.
Finally, with kids at a safe distance, hot glue the Lego base to the cardboard tube. You can glue the clear vending capsule on, or leave it unglued for your kids to take on and off as they play.
If your children want to pretend they’re going to Mars, they’ll also want something to stand in for the Red Planet.
It should be sturdy enough for play, and small enough to store easily. I settled on a piece of corrugated cardboard. For more longevity, you could use a scrap of plywood. Consider where you’ll store it, and cut your cardboard or plywood to fit. Then, paint it a reddish brown.
Next, give your board a dimensional rocky appearance. The secret ingredient? Lava sand. Make sure you get the reddish kind, not the black. I found mine at a local garden supply shop, but you can also get it online.
Pour out the desired amount of lava sand and mix it with white glue (I just used school glue) so that it is well coated. It will look terrible, but remember that the glue will dry clear. It will also soak into the porous rocks. Spread the mixture out onto your board, and then let it dry thoroughly.
My kids couldn’t wait for me to finish this project. They were dying to drive the Lego wheels over that rough Martian surface. They loved putting the astronauts in the rover and exploring the planet.
It was a good day for a “spacewalk” too.
Later, back on Earth, my girls were happy to snuggle up for another reading of their favorite space book. I hope your kids enjoy it as much as mine do.
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Read more from Heather
Heather is a reading and social studies teacher turned stay-at-home-mom of three children. She writes Books and Giggles, a blog about parenting and literacy, picture books, and kids’ activities.