If kids hear the expressions, “the sun is rising” or “the sun is setting” they may automatically assume that it’s the sun that’s moving…with good reason. As we are held down to Earth with gravity, it does appear that the sun is moving, when in fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s an important science lesson for kids to realize that gravity is so strong that we can’t even feel the speed of our planet spinning each day
Give your kids a little background to the relationship of the Earth and sun by using a flashlight and a ball (for an even better representation use a globe). Have your child be the “sun” by holding and shining the flashlight. Place a sticker on the ball to represent your child and then spin the ball (right to left) to show them how the sun’s light shines on specific areas at a time. The sticker on the ball only has sunlight for a specific time – “day.” Trade jobs with your child, so you can be the sun and they can be Earth. By doing this, your child will get a better picture of what’s happening.
For younger kids, get them excited about shadows by putting together a game of Shadow Tag. If you don’t have enough people, while you are outside with your child, play the game trying to step on each other’s shadows.
a bright sunny area and chalk
Experiment with Tracking the Sun
So, now that we have some background, we can track our movement around the sun.
Start by tracing your child’s feet in an area that will be sunny all day.
Each hour, your child will stand in the same position, while you trace his/her body with chalk.
After tracing your child’s body, record the time next to it.
When you are done, take a look at the shadow movement. How did their shadow change each hour? Why do they think this is happened?
When would be the best/worst times to play Shadow Tag?
Extend It - Making a Sundial
Extend this lesson for elementary kids by making a sundial. This project can be as elaborate as you would like, but can simply be done by putting a stick in the ground. Each hour, go outside to mark the hour. For example, my 5 year old wrote numbers on white stickers. She put rice in a pie pan and we poked a hole through the bottom to place a small stick. The stick served as both an anchor to the ground, as well as the “hour hand” of the clock. When the timer sounded each hour, she went outside and placed the sticker at the place the stick’s shadow was pointing. It was not elaborate, we simply used the supplies we had on hand.
On the other hand, if you’d like to try some different methods, there are several online. Here are two different takes on it’s construction:
Science Kids at Home offers directions to make a more natural sundial, using a stick, rocks, and clay. The rocks represent the hours. This would be a fun method to experiment with while camping!
Sky and Telescope offers directions to make a paper sundial. This one is tilted, so takes into account the sun’s position for different seasons. It is an equatorial sundial, especially great for older students.