Brightening Lessons: Outdoor Experiments to Teach Children About the Sun
The best way for your kids to learn about the sun is to get out in it! There are some things that just can’t be learned on the Internet, but there are plenty of activities that can be done in your backyard that will get your children away from the light of a computer screen and into the light of day.
Here are some fun ways to enlighten them about the star that’s essential to life on Earth.
Show how exposure to the sun affects plant growth
Buy some quick-growing grass seed and make a tiny greenhouse out of a box, with half of the grass seed covered so that no sunlight reaches it. Water both sides with your children for a couple weeks so that they can see the difference between the two. They’ll see that the grass seed that didn’t get any sunlight has hardly grown and lacks the color that the rest has, teaching them an interesting lesson about photosynthesis.
A good lesson on how solar energy can be used is to show your children how the sun’s energy can be used for cooking. The most basic example is to fry an egg on the sidewalk (of course, you will need to live somewhere hot enough for this to work). You can also create a solar box oven using a pizza box. Here are the steps to take:
- Cut a flap in the lid of the pizza box, leaving an inch between the sides of the flap and the edge of the lid. Fold the flap open. You may need to use a ruler to prop it open and keep it standing up.
- Use aluminum foil to cover the inner side of the flap.
- Line the bottom of the box with black construction paper
- Cover the open hole where you opened the flap with clear plastic wrap and make it airtight. It may require a couple layers.
Once you’ve done this, put your food on the black construction paper inside the box and set your solar box oven in a place where the most sunlight will be hitting the aluminum foil on the inner side of the open flap, causing it to reflect down onto the plastic wrap window. If you need to insulate it more, you can roll up newspaper sheets and put them on the bottom of the box.
Concentrate the power of the sun
As a child, you may have learned about the power of the sun by contributing to the fiery demise of some poor ants using a magnifying glass to concentrate its power. A more humane way to teach your children this lesson is to burn holes in dry leaves. Make sure you do this on pavement where nothing else has a chance of catching fire and tell your children to never do this without your supervision.
The warmth of the sun
Fill two bowls of water, placing one inside away from any windows and one outside on a sunny day. After you’ve given the water some time, get a thermometer and have your child both measure the temperature of both bowls and feel it with their hand to demonstrate the difference.
Make a rainbow!
Find a sunny spot and lay down a sheet of white paper. Fill a glass half full of water and hold it several inches above the paper to create a rainbow. This is a great visual demonstration that allows you to explain rainbows without having to wait for one to occur naturally.
Color and light absorption
To show your children that darker colors absorb more sunlight, take a half sheet of white construction paper and a half sheet of black construction paper and fold them in half lengthwise. Staple them to form a pocket. Put a thermometer in each pocket and put them in the shade for 10 minutes and then document the temperatures. Next, put them in the sun and record their temperatures every five minutes to show your kids the difference.
Protection from the sun
Stress to your kids the importance of wearing sunscreen and the harmful effects the sun can have if you are exposed to too much of its radiation. Also make it clear to your kids that they should never stare directly into the sun.
Do you have any other ideas for outdoor activities to teach children about the sun?
Guest Post by Chris Long
Chris Long, a Home Depot sales associate since 2000, helps customers with expert home improvement advice at their local store. Wherever you live, The Home Depot has a store near you with associates just like Chris who are knowledgeable and available to help with one-on-one advice for projects large and small.
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