Exploring How We Are Connected to the Sun

In this month’s nature post, I’m sharing two easy ways you can help your child become more observant of nature and it’s pace. While being active outdoors is fun, it is also important for young minds to have time to observe and wonder when they are outside. 

Take a moment and think to yourself – where is the sun shining into my house in the morning? In the afternoon? Which way is east/west? If you can’t quickly answer these questions, you have lost a connection to nature that was a critical component to helping humans survive.

It makes sense that we don’t need to know how our homes are situated to the cardinal directions (North, South, East, and West) because we have modern conveniences that help us live our lives and get the food we need. But paying attention to the sun throughout the day is a great way to work on observation skills with your young learners, and can help you both be connected to the little piece of Earth you call home. 

If you start this practice at home you can use it as you travel, go to the store, etc. It’s a great way to refocus children and to give our brains a short break from thinking through to-do lists or staring at screens. 

Here are two easy ways to get your child to start thinking about the sun and how it moves throughout the day. 

Find the Sun

If you pay attention to the sun’s path in the sky throughout the day, you’ll notice that it moves in an arc from East to West. Even though sunrise and sunset will change due to Earth’s rotation and tilt, the location of the sun is in the same place at the same time each day. You probably learned this in elementary school and depending on your lifestyle haven’t thought about it again until right now. Here’s a short easy explanation if you want a quick refresher.

Materials needed: paper and crayon/pencil

  1. Find an open area close to your house that you can easily make trips to throughout the day/week/month. (If you can’t get outside read below for how to do this in the house.)
  2. Pick a spot in the middle of the space and help your child draw a picture of the open area. Include landmarks like big trees, fences, neighbor’s houses, etc. 
  3. Now ask your child to find the sun. 
  4. Draw a circle for where the sun is in relation to the space you’re standing in. 
  5. Throughout the day go outside and repeat steps 3 and 4. It’s best if this is done at equal intervals, every hour, every two/three hours. 
  6. At the end of the day look at the path the sun makes across the area.
  7. If your child is younger you can label the picture morning, afternoon, evening but if your child is starting to work on telling time, work with them to put the time under the sun. 
  8. Do this for a few days and ask your child to notice if the sun’s position changes.

If you don’t have a space that you can get to outside you can do this activity in your house, just by paying attention to what window the sun’s light is shining through. 

  • To adapt this for being inside, have your child draw an outline floorplan of your house, making sure to note the windows..
  • Throughout the day, at regular intervals have them look to see what window has the sun shining through it – to figure this out have them look at the floor or walls to see where they see the sun’s light. 
  • They can use a yellow crayon to color the area where the sun is shining into the house.
  • Help them by either writing morning, afternoon and evening or the time of the day for each area of the house. 

If your child is older you can discuss how the direction and height of the sun can be used to tell the time of day and even what direction you are walking in. The sun rises in the East and sets in the West. When your child makes their drawing you could include the cardinal directions.

Shadow Play

When was the last time you thought about your shadow? Do you know when shadows are the longest or when they’re hard to find. You’ll need to do this in an open area with grass or ideally a hard surface (patio, drive way, sidewalk, etc.) that you can put chalk on.

Materials needed: sidewalk chalk, paper, crayons/pencil, phone with camera, household items or lawn furniture (see notes below), sunny day.

  • Have your child bring along a few objects from inside that are different sizes and shapes. Larger is better than smaller, think stuffed animals, water bottles, a chair (if you’re in your yard) instead of legos, puzzle pieces, small balls.
  • Place the objects around your area and look for their shadow.
  • Have your child trace the outline of the shadow with chalk. If you don’t have an area where you can use chalk, have your child take a picture of the object and it’s shadow or they can draw the object and its shadow. If taking pictures you can play around with being at different angles to see how to get the best picture of the shadow…is it sitting on the ground, standing up close to the object, far away from the object. Allow your child to explore the various options and see what they think.
  • Make sure to note the time either by writing it next to the shadow or on the picture if they’re drawing.
  • If you can, leave the objects where they are and check on them throughout the day and repeat tracing the shadow. If you can’t leave the objects out all day try to find “landmarks” to help you put the items back in the same place each time, pick a specific corner of a sidewalk, next to a rock, etc.
  • At the end of the day discuss how the shadow changed as the day went on. When was the shadow the smallest, when was it the longest, what caused the shadow?

The two activities can be easily combined to include an object in the space when you’re looking at the sun and drawing it’s shadow in the picture.

Nicole – Something Creative Contributor

About Nicole – I’ve spent the last 20 years teaching audiences of all ages about the environment and sustainability and how their actions can impact the environment. I got my start in environmental education on a whim working for a zoo in college. I had no idea that a college job would lead to me joining the Peace Corps, leading nature camps for a nature center, developing education programs for an international development agency, working at a university and now leading environmental education programs for a water utility. While the venue may have changed, the message is always the same, “Our actions impact not just ourselves but our community (which includes nature) and the entire world”. I’m a firm believer that experiences in nature help children not only learn critical thinking skills, but also gain confidence. While I have no children of my own I’m the cool aunt to 3 amazing kids that love to explore outside.

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