Cardboard Planetarium — DIY star-gazing for kids!

The Perseid meteor shower was recently visible in the sky. Did you see it? Finding the right time and place to spot the spectacle was a bit of a pain. In the summer holidays, many people want to see the stars but don’t have the money to go to a proper planetarium. If you are one of these people, did you know you can make a planetarium out of some unconventional materials?

At temperatures over 35 degrees Celsius, PingMag popped along to an elementary school gymnasium to watch a special kids’ workshop by Art Studio Asahigaoka, a group of art college students, teaching children to build a planetarium… out of cardboard boxes!

How can you turn a pile of cardboard boxes into a planetarium?!

Art Studio Asahigaoka was set up in June to hold events in and around Asahigaoka Elementary School in Nerima ward in Tokyo. The manager is Rina Ohito, a student from Tokyo University of the Arts and who used to attend Nihon University College of Art. This is one of the three art colleges in the Ekoda area, where the Asahigaoka school is located, and Rina told us that the students wanted to do something fun while also helping out the school.

First of all, the participants get a basic explanation. “We’re going to make a cardboard house and then a space inside that is pitch black. Then put holes in the ceiling. Light will shine through this and turn it into a planetarium.” They are told nothing about the design itself so it’s up to the adults to work together and decide on a plan.
Transporting the materials…
There were lots of tools and pens for the “builders” to use, including ones you don’t normally find at home, such as cellophane in various colors and POSCA markers.

planetarium-005 planetarium-006

Making pillars by rolling up the cardboard and then reinforcing it with tape.

planetarium-007 planetarium-008

Gradually the walls getting higher and higher. The kids were taking it very seriously! With so many tape colors, they were spoilt for choice.

planetarium-009 planetarium-010

Constructing the all-important roof. Now the parents and guardians were also working hard with the kids to suggest ideas and try things out.
planetarium-011 planetarium-012
Putting holes in the roof, first in the cardboard and then again after the structure had been built. The tool to do this is just a ballpoint, so it’s perfectly safe.

planetarium-013 planetarium-014 planetarium-015

Now with the structure taking shape, the children were getting into the decoration. They drew on the walls or cut out cute characters from other bits of cardboard and stuck these on.
The planetaria are surprisingly large!

Okay! It’s now finally time to go and take a look inside!

planetarium-017 planetarium-018

Inside it’s also unexpectedly spacious, big enough for five college students to sit down and take it easy. The kids were even able to run around! It was pretty hot, though, so the youngsters would race out to cool down.

Now what about the all-important starry sky?


planetarium-020 planetarium-021 planetarium-022

The resulting “planetarium” was actually very pretty. Look closely and you can even spot a heart-shaped “constellation”.

The kids seemed thrilled to be able to see the stars inside the planetarium while the parents loved taking a photo with their children in the dome. We spoke to Rina Ohito about the successful workshop.

What does everyone normally study at college?

Well, it’s mostly my friends from Tokyo University of the Arts, so like me many of us study art and oil painting. There is also one who makes sculptures, plus one who studies novel-writing at Nihon University College of Art. Lots of the students are learning to be teachers and everyone loves kids. There is even one who was at one point going to learn childcare.

Where did the idea for the workshop come from?

We’ve only been going for less than a year so for now, more than trying out new things, we are basing our ideas on the workshops than happen at other places. There was an idea to make a cardboard house and Katsuhiko Hibino, who teaches at Nihon University, is doing that in workshops. I’ve helped out in them and I thought it was good idea so I applied it to our workshop.

How is a workshop like this run by arts students different to one run by childcare students?

They put emphasis to totally different things. Workshops run by childcare facilities are almost always done in a way where anyone is able to take part. For example, drawing a circle and then making the paints jump out like a flower. The methodology and techniques are all fixed. It’s fun enough but it has to remain within the prepared framework of childcare. Safety is number one so they do not use anything dangerous, they do things that everyone can do, making sure everyone doesn’t get too loud… and so on. [Laughs] The structure is at the top and the way to make it fun has been conceived and prepared within this.

But workshops run by people from the arts have a much higher level of freedom. But with this level of freedom there is also a greater danger for the people running the event. For example, you might use a Stanley knife but that’s dangerous, right? It might lead to injuries. But if you don’t use one then it stops you from doing lots of things. You end up only being able to use scissors and then the things you can make become more limited. Things are really different depending on the techniques and the kids, and everyone has things they like and dislike. You end up just arranging the bare minimum. Of course we take safety into proper consideration but if things stay too much in the box then it’s boring, right? [Laughs] For people from the arts, we want the children to be free.

The planetaria were built in a day and then on the same day were torn down. The kids also seemed to enjoy this part of the work! planetarium-023

The next Art Studio Asahigaoka workshop is scheduled for October 12th (Sat). It’s a school open day so anyone can take part!