Galaxy Jars with Mini-Lesson on Nebulae

I heard through the grapevine that my neighbours to the south are celebrating A Universe of Stories as their Summer Reading theme this year! Canadians are celebrating Our Natural World. I know some people might not consider galaxies as part of our natural world, but I sure do. I imagine hundreds of American Librarians (hey, there’s a blog name for you) are already planning to run Galaxy Jars. That’s why I decided to share my upgraded version!

galaxy jars

I’ve blogged about Galaxy Jars before, and many of you have probably done this art project / craft already. I know I’ve done it over 10 times! But this time I added something new. A Mini-Lesson on Galaxies and Nebulae. Download my PowerPoint here: What do Galaxies Really Look Like and check out some sample slides below. All photos are from the Hubble Telescope.

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I highly recommend adding this short lesson at the beginning of any galaxy print art project (and there are a LOT of them!). You can discuss the difference between a galaxy and a nebula (most “Galaxy Print” items are actually more like Nebula Print!), learn a tiny bit about the amazing Hubble Telescope, and look at photos of galaxies and nebulae. Looking at real photos of space helps kids choose their colours – they might even choose a real nebula to replicate in their jar. Download the full PowerPoint for free, and in case you missed it the first time, here’s how to make a galaxy jar:

Galaxy Jar Instructions

  1. Grab a large handful of cotton balls – enough to fill one third of the jar – and gently tear them apart.
    • Note, some kids might have a physical aversion to pulling cotton apart. You can totally do this craft without tearing the cotton (or you can help those kids out). The tearing gives the galaxy more of an authentic wispy look.
  2. Put the cotton balls into the jar. Use a spoon or popsicle stick to press the cotton balls together as much as possible.
  3. In a separate cup, mix 1/4 cup of water, 1 or 2 tablespoons worth of paint, and glitter.
  4. Carefully pour the paint mixture into your jar.
  5. Use the spoon (or popsicle stick) to poke at the cotton balls until most of the paint mixture is absorbed.
  6. Add a new layer of torn cotton balls to fill the next third of the jar
  7. Mix another 1/4 cup water, 1 or 2 tablespoon of paint, and glitter.
    • You can choose a new colour, or a gradient of your original colour. Be sure to choose colours that mix well together, as they will blend over time.
  8. Pour into jar, and poke cotton balls again until most of the water is absorbed.
  9. Add the final layer of cotton balls to fill the rest of the jar, and repeat the colour mixture steps.


Kids do have a ton of fun with this project, and everyone leaves happy. I love that it’s a unique way to play with paint, and that everyone can put their own spin on their jar. Sometimes I add glow in the dark paint or powder to the jars! Just be warned, it takes quite a lot of product to make the jar glow. Another fun way to mix things up is to use coloured cotton balls instead of white ones.

For room set up, I recommend placing piles of cotton balls on the tables, and having one station at the front with water, paint, and glitter. I always have myself or a teen volunteer in charge of distributing the paint. Check out these beautiful works in progress from my most recent workshop:


What other Galaxy or Space programs are you running this summer?

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