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 what can’t be seen.

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!

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 answering 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.

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.

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 & color

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!

Atom Model for Kids

Atomic Materials you will need:

  • 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:

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

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.

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.

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

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

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

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!

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.

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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