My 7-year old son has been asking a lot of questions and drawing a lot of pictures of the solar system lately. He was learning about it in science class towards the end of the school year, so I suspect that is why. It just so happened that, while out shopping for craft supplies, I saw this FloraCraft Styrofoam Solar System Kit, Pre-Painted in Michaels and thought it might be something that he and I could build together.
Two different versions of the kit were available, the one pictured here which I purchased, which comes ‘painted’ and another (not shown) that is ‘ready-to-paint’. I was a little disturbed by the price $24.99 (CDN), but made the purchase anyway as it looked like it might be fun to do.
The kit includes the following items:
- Styrofoam Balls: (1)-5″ ball, (1)-2″ ball, (1)-4″ ball, (2)- 1 1/2″ balls, (1)-3″ ball, (2)-1 1/4″ balls, (1)-2 1/2″ ball, and (1)-1″ ball. As I mentioned, the balls are pre-painted in pink, orange, red, green, dark blue, light blue and yellow.
- Styrofoam Rings: (2)-4 1/2″ rings
- Wire and,
Needed to assemble the solar system and not included (as indicated on the box):
- White tacky glue (water base)
- Low temperature glue gun & glue sticks and,
- Wire cutters
The kit is designed for children 8 years and up, but is intended to be used with adult supervision (warning likely due to the glue gun and wire cutters).
When this model was assembled, it just so happened that my son and I got some assistance from a visiting 11-year old girl. Both my son and his friend enjoyed the process immensely. The project was quick to put together. I cut all the wire to the correct lengths and then provided assistance as to the correct order/placement of the planets.
As soon as we took the pieces out of the box, my son decided he did not want to use the black Styrofoam ring that was included as a base for the sun (so that it could sit on a shelf). Instead, he wished the model to hang from his bedroom ceiling. So, before we began assembling, I pierced the sun with one of the included wires and inserted embroidery thread to act as a hanger. To keep the thread from slipping inside the sphere, I tied a yellow button to the bottom of the thread so as the model hangs it rests upon it. Had I had some available, I would have used fishing line instead of the thread so that it would be invisible while hanging, but my son was anxious to build and didn’t want to wait.
The entire build exercise took about 20 minutes. We did not, as the instructions suggested, ‘glue’ the planets to the wire. As it was to hang, I didn’t feel that it would need that kind of protection from wear and tear. While building, a couple of the planets did fall off when bumped though, so the gluing should not be omitted if the model is to sit upon a shelf. If I find that the planets ‘fall off’ over time, I will glue them. That is still an option.
Here is a picture of the completed ‘hanging’ Solar System model:
My son was initially disturbed that the model did not hang straight, but falls to one side. This is due to the placement of the planets and their relative size/weight. On the front of the box it is displayed on this angle as well, so I am pretty sure we built it correctly. The circle you see on the centre sphere in my photo is the button I secured to the bottom of the Sun.
- The builder learns the order of the planets and their relative distance from the Sun while assembling the project.
- Makes a colourful 3D model that can be displayed.
- There is some room for creativity in assembly (i.e. with some modification the model can hang from the ceiling rather than rest on a shelf).
- A quick project. 20 minutes start to finish.
- A tad expensive considering it is a kit comprised of Styrofoam and wire.
- The list of items necessary for assembly and not included in the kit is incomplete; directions also reference toothpicks and an elastic band. It is not likely that this project could be assembled without the toothpicks specifically as these were used to attach the rings to Saturn. The instructions suggest that glue could be used to attach the rings if toothpicks are unavailable, however I do not see how this is possible. There is quite a large gap between the rings and the planet. If glue were used, a great deal would be required. (see photo below)
- While intended to be used with adult supervision, it is my opinion that the 8 years and up guideline is too loose. Instructions are complete, but likely too advanced for an 8 year old to understand. Other than the pictures on the box, there are no pictorial instructions included for the ‘visual’ learner.
Some other interesting points to note:
- A web search reveals that two similar kits are available from FloraCraft for building models of (1) Molecules and (2) DNA. Shelf tags at my local Michael’s indicate that the Molecule version was formerly available, but was sold out.
- There is a list of Amazing Facts about the Solar System included on the Instruction sheet. My son wasn’t all that interested in the ‘facts’ while he was building, but I will keep the sheet as I’m sure we will refer to it at some point.
- On the box there is reference to three websites to get further information about the solar system and solar system exploration. Unfortunately one of the links is invalid.
- Suggestions are given on the box for customizing your solar system model with aluminum foil or spackling putty before painting (obviously for the unpainted version).
The bottom line: Would I recommend it? Probably not. Despite the fact that it was fun to build, the materials included are not worth the near $25 price tag. The unpainted version would be a definite ‘NO’ unless you already have the correct colours of acrylic paint in your stash. While the painting might be fun to do, having to buy the paint would certainly drive up the price of an already over-priced product. Having to paint the product would also seriously increase the time required for assembly.
Have you built a FloraCraft Styrofoam model kit? Share your experience and your recommendation with us – leave a comment below!