Let’s make a simple atom model. The thought that the world is built with tiny little building blocks that we can not see is something that fascinates kids. It is one of the reasons I really like this easy atom model project for kids to show them visually and hands on what can’t be seen with their eyes. Use this fun simulation activity at home or in the classroom.

Build your own atoms science for kids - atom model built by kids with pom poms and wire - three steps shown with child paying with atom model
Let’s make an atom model!

What is an atom?

Everything is made of atoms. They are the tiniest piece of an element that still has all the properties of that element. So, if someone handed you an atom of Helium and you could see down to the molecular level, you would be able to tell it was Helium just by seeing what the atom looked like.

Related: Amazing facts for kids

If someone broke off a small piece {big enough to taste} of chocolate chip cookie and you couldn’t see the chocolate chips or that it was round like a cookie, you probably could identify it as a chocolate chip cookie from the taste.

That is kind of how this works only MUCH smaller.

Exploring Atomic Structure with Kids

Likely after introducing the concept of atoms at home or in science class with your kid is a great way to start conversations and answer questions like:

  • Do atoms make up this table?
  • My arm?
  • Even the refrigerator?

Yes, yes, and even the refrigerator. Kids love thinking BIG and thinking this SMALL is really, really BIG. Making an atomic model together can help them translate this idea into something a little more concrete.

Structure of an Atom

Protons, Neutrons & Electrons…OH MY!

Atoms are a combination of protons, neutrons and electrons. The nucleus of an atom appears like the protons and neutrons are all smashed together which creates a spherical center. The electrons orbit around the nucleus.

The atomic number of an atom is the number of protons in that atom.   The Periodic Table of Elements organizes it all. It is like atom alphabetization!

“The total weight of an atom is called the atomic weight. It is approximately equal to the number of protons and neutrons, with a little extra added by the electrons.”

Energy, What are Atomic Number and Atomic Weight

Related: Grab our free printable periodic table to learn more about how the Periodic Table of Elements works!

Bohr Model of an Atom - Nitrogen - Kids Activities Blog - 2 D version of atomic model
Bohr atomic model of a nitrogen atom. vector illustration for science

Bohr Model

“In atomic physics, the Bohr model or Rutherford–Bohr model, presented by Niels Bohr and Ernest Rutherford in 1913, is a system consisting of a small, dense nucleus surrounded by orbiting electrons—similar to the structure of the Solar System, but with attraction provided by electrostatic forces in place of gravity.”

Wikipedia <–don’t usually use it as a main source, but it had the clearest explanation of Bohr model

Let’s build one for fun!

Build an Atom Model for Kids

Atomic Materials Needed

  • craft pom-poms in three colors in equal amounts
  • craft wire
  • hot glue gun or regular glue and patience

How to Make an Atom Model

Step 1

Each one of the pom-pom colors will represent a different part of the atom:   proton, neutron and electron.

Step 2

To be very simple today, we are making a neutrally charged atom, so we will be using equal amounts of protons, neutrons and electrons.   Previous art projects have depleted our pom-pom supply, so the two examples we show will have very small atomic numbers.

Step 3

The wire represents the electron path.   First, fashion electron paths for each of your electrons.   These are orbits around the nucleus, so make them a little wider in the middle and narrow at the ends.

Step 4

Hot glue the electron pom-pom onto the wire {we covered the end joint}.

Step 5

Create a nucleus by gluing the proton and neutron pom-poms together in a ball.

In this example:   blue=protons, yellow=neutrons and orange=electrons – this atom model has two protons, two neutrons and two electrons which makes it Helium

Step 6

Make short stability rods out of the wire to attach the electron paths to the nucleus.   To be fancy and minimize the visibility of these connector pieces, I glued the stability “rod” piece into the nucleus and then attached it at the electron path under the electron pom-pom at the original joint.

In this example:   green=protons, orange=neutrons and yellow=electrons – this atom model has three protons, three neutrons and three electrons which makes it Lithium

Step 7

Once the electron/electron paths are attached to the nucleus, you will need to do some atomic orbit arranging for your model of the atom. The larger the atomic number, the more arranging!

Our Experience with Atom Activities

  • First of all, my kids LOVED making this model of an atom.   We ended up making a LOT of atoms.   While we made each one, we discussed the atom anatomy and which parts belong where.
  • Each of the atoms we build we would look up its atomic number on the Periodic Table to see the name of what we had made.   I loved how easy this is to do for kids and on several occasions, I was Googling element abbreviations and pronunciations.
  • Atom drawing:   After this lesson, I noticed that the doodles and drawings of the boys started having objects in orbit.   To have this 3-D concept interpreted by them in 2-D is pretty cool.
Yield: 1

Easy Atom Model

Make an atom model for kids - Kids Activities Blog FB

Build this simple model atom with kids to teach kids what does atom look like with hands-on fun! This easy model of science can teach kids about the structure of an atom and about atomic number, etc. This 3D atom model is easy and fun and can be done in minutes with accessible craft supplies.

Active Time 20 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Difficulty Medium
Estimated Cost $1

Materials

  • craft pom-poms in three colors in equal amounts
  • craft wire

Tools

  • hot glue gun with glue

Instructions

  1. Decide what color pom poms you are going to use to represent each item: protons, neutrons and electrons.
  2. To make a neutrally charged atom, use equal amounts of protons, neutrons and electrons (equal number of colors of pom poms).
  3. The craft wire represents the electron path so each of the electrons will have one. Craft an electron path out of wire that orbits the nucleus which means they will be a little wider in the middle than at ech end.
  4. Hot glue the electron pom pom onto each craft wire electron path at the junction of the two wires.
  5. Create a nucleus in the middle of the model atom by gluing the proton and neutron pom poms together in a ball.
  6. Arrange your orbiting electrons around the nucleus with connector pieces if needed.

What other hands-on options are there for teaching kids to build an atom model?

Hands-on activities really change how kids retain and understand science. Atom models are a fun and easy project to get them invested in learning science.

Want more options to teach kids with atom models:

Playdough Atom Model: Utilize playdough to create a tactile and interactive atom model. Let children shape a larger ball of playdough to represent the nucleus and smaller balls to represent electrons. They can then arrange the electrons around the nucleus to simulate different atomic structures.

Edible Atom Models: Use food to construct atom models. For example, use fruit like grapes for electrons and a larger fruit like an apple or orange for the nucleus. Kids can assemble the edible components to form different atom models and then enjoy their creations as a tasty treat.

Building Block Models: Utilize building blocks, such as LEGO or wooden blocks, to represent atoms. Assign specific colors or shapes to represent different atomic components. Kids can build structures by stacking blocks to mimic the arrangement of protons, neutrons, and electrons within an atom.

Atomic Mobiles: Create atom mobiles using lightweight materials like paper, craft foam, or Styrofoam balls. Children can paint or color the components to represent the nucleus and electrons. Attach strings or wires to suspend the different components and assemble them into a mobile. This activity enables kids to visualize how atoms are interconnected and how electrons revolve around the nucleus.

Do I have to make atom models to teach my kids about atoms and molecules?

Of course not! While hands-on activities have a huge impact on scientific thinking for kids, we have all been there! Not enough time, not enough interest, not the right supplies.

Here is a great printable with instructions to draw an atom step by step. You can find a fun zentangle coloring page of an atom model here.

Or try one of these 10 fun ways to learn atoms and molecules for kids.

What if my kids want more after building an atom model!? I love they are interested in science but what do I do next?

That’s good news! You’ve planted a seed that your kids will continue to think about. And you made learning fun! You are 100% capable of teaching your kids about science beyond just atom models.

Keep these things in mind:

  1. Hands-on Approach: Engage kids in hands-on activities to make the learning experience interactive and enjoyable. These activities help children visualize and understand complex subjects like the arrangement of atomic components.
  2. Keep it Visual: Use aids such as diagrams, pictures, and videos to enhance understanding.
  3. Relate to Everyday Life: Connect atom models to everyday experiences. Discuss how atoms form the materials they encounter in their daily lives, such as water, air, or food. This helps kids understand why the playdough atom model they are creating actually relates to their life!
  4. Gradual Complexity: As kids grasp the basics, gradually introduce more complex ideas. You can discuss different atomic models throughout history (did you know there were 5 basic atomic models?) or touch upon atomic bonding and chemical reactions as their understanding grows.

What is the mass number of your atom?

The mass number of an atom is the total number of protons and neutrons. It can be calculated by adding the number of neutrons and the number of protons (atomic number) together.

More Science Fun for Kids from Kids Activities Blog

How did your atom model build turn out? Did your kids love exploring atoms?



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13 Comments

  1. This looks like a great way to teach kids about atoms. Building an atom is a perfect activity for my boys that tend to learn best when it’s hands-on.

  2. My daughter has always struggled with science, but activities like this how to make an atom model tutorial are the way to go with “hands on kids” like her! She loves crafting, so she gives anything that appeals to that side of things a chance, and learns as she builds! This is a great idea!