A DIY Space Exploration Room!
If you follow our preschool's facebook or instagram accounts I am sure you have noticed all of the space posts from the past week! We are right in the middle of our two week long space study-and it's a BLAST! Our space study is always one of the kids favorite themes during our normal school year, and it happens in the Spring, so I figured it would be fun to feature it as one of our "Summer Camp" themes this month in our Seedlings Program. We are making planet mobiles, reading space books, enjoying some space themed art activities in the morning (like making your own constellations with stamps and stickers)...but by far the most popular activity is our new space exploration room. It has a NASA Station and four different rocket ships for the kids to play in. Three of our rocket ships were a DIY project I had been dreaming up for a few months and I am very happy with how they turned out. If you have seen the rockets and are curious about how to make one yourself take a look below to read my story...and for a step-by-step tutorial!
What our washing machine panels look like disconnected from a machine
My dad works at Coin Meter, a local company that distributes washers and dryers all over the state. I was at his work picking up a bunch of lumber for some other DIY projects I had in mind when I saw some of these really cool washers out in their recycle yard. I immediately thought they looked like rocket ship windows and asked if I could have the front panel off of them. My dad definitely thought it was a funny request... but when I showed up at his work a week later he had all three of the front panels taken apart for me. He also found a dryer wheel and a control panel off of an old machine that still had buttons and knobs (most are all electronic and touchscreen now so this was a very lucky find) for us to use as part of the space ship control panels. Once I had the washing machine front panels the rest of the rocket ships had to be designed. I wanted something that I could easily move into the basement to store until our space study happens each year (light enough I can pick up and carry) and something that could hold a variety of controls, buttons, and knobs.
STEP ONE: BUILD THE SIDES (AND ATTACH THEM)
I was too afraid to use my table saw on a huge piece of plywood alone, but I was able to get my friendly helpers at Home Depot to cut a piece of plywood I purchased into six smaller pieces. Once I got it home I had to sand them down and paint them. Figuring out how to attach the metal washing machines to thin wood panels was tricky for me. It took a few trips to the hardware store to get it right but I ended up using some metal pieces with holes that could fit both bolts (on the metal side) and wood screws (on the wood panels). I had to drill holes into the washing machines first and attach my metal joiners. The wood nails were longer than the thickness of the plywood and I wanted them to be sturdy so I added some thick pieces of 2X4s to the inside which I planned to turn into control buttons by painting on colorful buttons once they were attached.
Plywood isn't a high quality wood with a nice finish, but its affordable and easy to sand down. I just wanted to make sure the kids wouldn't get splinters if they rubbed up against the sides.
Here you can see that the left side has some bolts and I used nuts on the other side to keep the washing machine securely attached. Eventually I painted these white to match the whole rocket ship.
Here is a closer look at the inside, showing the bolts as well as where I attached the 2x4s to give the wood screws a little more length than just the plywood. You'll notice these have bright circular "buttons" painted on them when the rocket ships are finished!
Once I figured out how to attach everything together I went ahead and attached my metal joiners to the wood panels only on all six of my wood pieces and painted everything white. I figured it would be easier to build the control panels with the sides of the rocket ships separately laid out.
STEP TWO: BUILD THE CONTROL PANELS
I purchased a bunch of different electronics at thrift shops. Keyboards and telephones have great buttons but I also just searched for random things that had buttons or knobs. In addition, I purchased some round craft knobs and painted them different colors to attach on each control panel. You can take a look at some examples of our control panels below:
This turned out to be one of my favorite control panel sections. It was made from the washing machine panel my dad found, along with a wheel from a dryer. I spray painted both of them (I just put tape over the knobs and buttons to keep them white).
I ended up using modge-podge to add some space photos onto the top of the control panel, just for fun! Here it is inside one of the rocket ships along with a space decorated keyboard.
STEP THREE: ATTACH EVERYTHING and SAFETY PROOF
The washing machines are made of metal and on the very top and bottom there were some spots that could easily cut someone if they touched it. Once I had the sides attached I cut some super thick furniture foam into pieces to glue onto these spots. I actually think that the foam made them look pretty cool.
The strips of foam have slits cut into them so they can fit right over the metal. I also added a ton of metal glue to keep them secure.
I also cut six smaller pieces in the shape of the odd metal sections to the left and right of our "windows" just so that the kids didn't scratch themselves on the bolts. These were glued on with the same metal glue I found at Micheals Craft Store which was super easy because it was in a spray can.
STEP FOUR: MAKE TRIANGLE SHAPED TOPS AND FINS
Some cheap craft foam boards, scissors, and red spray paint was all I needed to make these cute tops and fins for the rocket-ships.
I attached these with velcro so they would be able to move from side to side if the kids brush past them. Flexibility is always a plus when you have large groups of little ones playing. It will also allow me to take them off when I am moving and storing them.
The tops were attached by cutting a slit in the top of the foam and sliding the triangle down into the slit. I can also easily take these off when moving and storing.
SETTING UP THE REST OF OUR SPACE EXPLORATION ROOM
I made a space curtain for one of our windows that has planets and stars on it.
I made this curtain (which is amazing double sided star fabric) to drape across the room above the kids heads. When they look UP its like looking at the stars!
This is our NASA station. This old computer monitor has all its cords cut off and a piece of velcro on it. All the laminated space photos can velcro up to the screen (or inside any of our rocket ships). We also have NASA badges, NASA shirts, a keyboard, and phone!
This rocket canopy came from Target. I saw it and couldn't pass it up. I put our space rug inside it, which has our solar system on it. This rug lives in our play room all year long.
These planet wall decals came from Etsy, and live in our school all year long. If you noticed the cute space art-my mom made those for me last Winter! She is amazing.
We have this Hape wooden rocket ship out for play time often, but it is a fun addition to our space exploration week during our space study.
I hope you've enjoyed this (very long!) post. If you have fun DIY space ideas link them in the comments below! We enjoy this theme on a yearly basis and I always love sharing ideas to add new things to our play based learning!
Look at those cute little astronauts in their NASA shirts and badges!!