Tuesday, September 3, 2013

DIY Constellation Tubes

Somehow summer is over and I have no idea how that happened.  Maybe its the weather - it's been hot, hot, hot and sticky for the last couple of weeks around here - but whatever it is, I am NOT ready! Regardless of my desire to stop time, my middle kiddo goes back to school tomorrow and my oldest has been in school for almost three weeks.  (Which is still hard for me to wrap my mind around since we are so used to starting school after Labor Day.)

This year we compiled a "Summer Fun List" of around 30 things we wanted to do during the summer.  (We still have several items on our Summer Fun List that we haven't completed, but I'm going to claim an extension until the autumnal equinox on September 22nd for those.  Is that cheating?)  This activity was inspired by one of the list items - "Go Stargazing".  

I found a site called Lie Back Look Up that has a lot of great activities, including a printable star map for kids which I printed out and brought with us to the beach in early August.  The girls were able to find a couple of the easier constellations (i.e. The Big Dipper) but were struggling with identifying the others.  (I think its a bit like using a microscope with children.  You may know what you are seeing, but the kids can't distinguish between an air bubble and an amoeba due to their limited experience.)  

When we got home, I started thinking about ways to explore the constellations with them.  I found an awesome book by HA Rey (the creator of Curious George) called Find the Constellations.  I also saw quite a few constellation cards on Pinterest - check out my Science with Kids board to see some of them. My favorite are these from Lie Back, Look Up that includes information about each of the constellations on the back.  We printed those, laminated them and stuck them on a key ring for future reference.

Then I had a flashback to my own elementary school days and remembered making constellation tubes out of those black plastic film canisters.  Since those are pretty few and far between these days (who uses film?!?) I thought we could make them using toilet paper tubes (one of my favorite things to repurpose).  I found a few examples on the web, but no super clear instructions and since I did them completely wrong the first time, I figured it might be a good DIY project to write up in case other people have the same problems that I had.  So, here it is.  Let me know if you make them and have any feedback!!

Step 1:  Print out the constellation patterns from the About.com Space site.  I think these may have originally been intended for use with the smaller film canisters because I found that I needed to print them at 120% size to match the approximate diameter of the toilet paper tube.  The other key thing here is to make sure to select "flip horizontally" found under the 'layout' option in the print screen.  I ended up with inverted constellations the first time because I didn't do this step. Because the words also end up flipped, I would print out an extra sheet not flipped so that you can use it as a reference.  (I developed the ability to read upside down pretty well when I was teaching in the classroom but trying to read stuff flipped gives me a headache!)

Step 2: Gather the rest of your materials. We used the following:

  • empty toilet paper tubes
  • glue stick
  • tape
  • scissors
  • black construction paper squares (4.5" x 4.5")
  • black sharpie marker
  • giant push pin
  • cork board

Step 3: Cut around the outside, dotted line around the constellation pattern.  Glue to the center of the construction paper.  

Step 4: Place the construction paper on the piece of cork board (I doubled it because my cork was fairly thin) and use the giant push pin to punch holes where the stars are located in the pattern.

Step 5: Trim around the square into a rough circle shape (it does not need to be perfect!!).  Then make cuts from the outer edge of the construction paper into the center, but do not cut into the constellation pattern.  This allows for easy attaching of the construction paper to the cardboard tube. I made cuts to divide the piece into 8 wedges - you could probably do more to make the fit even smoother, but I wouldn't do less.  Prefold the wedges by holding the circle with your thumb on the edge of the white constellation paper and folding the wedge upwards. 

Step 6: Center the constellation in the top of the cardboard tube and tape each wedge down. Start with the wedges opposite each other (i.e. 12 o'clock and 6 o'clock) then move on to the ones perpendicular to those (i.e. 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock).  Finally tape the remaining 4 wedges down then go all the way around with another long piece of tape to add extra security.  (You could also use duct tape here.)

Step 7: Using the sharpie marker, write the name of the constellation on the side of the tube. 

Step 8: Close one eye and use the other eye to look through the tube at the constellation pattern. Start by sharing the name of the constellation with your child and have them look through the tube at the pattern.  As they get more comfortable with the patterns, do it the opposite way and see if they can tell you the name of the constellation after viewing the pattern.

Step 9: Because the tubes are fairly delicate, store them in a secure box.  We chose to use a fairly thick shoe box.  Also, because we only had enough rolls to make 4 constellation tubes to start, I put the extra patterns in the box as well so we could make more as we collected more empty toilet paper rolls.


  1. What a fun idea, Rachel! I don't have preschoolers anymore, but I think my 1st and 3rd grader would love this! (I actually think my 6th grader would enjoy it, too.) Pinning for sure!

    I love science activities. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing.

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  5. Hi there! Thanks so much for this great idea. My daughter and I really enjoyed making these constellation tubes for her school project. One thing to note, if you want the constellations to look correct when looking into the tubes the images you provided must be flipped if you are punching the holes on the printed side. Thanks again for this great idea!

    1. opps, I see that you have instructions for flipping them. Sorry, I missed that. I got so excited I jumped right in without reading the instructions first =)

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Very inspiring and interesting. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Does anyone still have copies of the constellations. About.com is no more and I can't find a single copy of the constellations ANYWHERE!! eek! I really want to use these for a space class with my littles. Please help!

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  12. This website has the constellations document: https://inventorsoftomorrowdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2017/02/ccf58-viewerfile.png
    They are too small, so I enlarged them.

  13. i did found them https://www.google.com.co/search?q=constellations+patterns&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwifoajhm4_gAhVOC6wKHVebD5UQ_AUIDigB&biw=1366&bih=626#imgrc=LqNinX1gRDt0ZM: and


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