Looking for fun ways to get your child back back in the learning mind-set at the end of summer break?
With plenty of sunshine during the summer months, it’s the perfect time to try making a paper plate sundial.
Your child will get plenty of practice telling time, learning about the Earth’s rotation and its affect on shadows, doing a little bit of writing, and even get some time outside.
Plus, this one is also easy enough for kids to do on their own, making it one of our favorite simple STEM activities for kids.
Before the invention of modern clocks and watches, ancient people people watched the position of the sun and the shadow on a sundial to help keep track of time.
In this activity your child will make a homemade sundial and discover how to use the sun to keep track of time.
This solar STEM activity is fun, quick to set-up, and uses materials you probably already have at home, making it a win-win for everyone involved.
Paper Plate Sundial STEM Activity
- Sturdy Paper Plate
- Sharpened Pencil
- Permanent Marker
Use the point of your pencil to poke a hole in the center of your paper plate. Try not to make the hole any bigger than it needs to be. Having a snug fit will help keep the pencil stable.
The plate should be upside down, with the pencil poking through so the eraser end can rest flat on the ground beneath the plate.
Use a bit of tape to secure the pencil with the pointed end standing up. For best results you want your pencil to be straight up and down (perpendicular to the paper plate).
Check the clock. A few minutes before the clock strikes the next hour, take your materials outside and place your plate in a flate area that gets plenty of sunshine. (This will allow you to start marking the hours on your sundial right away.)
Either tape the rim of the plate to the ground, or use a few small rocks to help weigh it down so it doesn’t blow away.
Each hour on the hour go outside and use your permanent marker to draw a line along the pencil’s shadow on the plate. Write the time next to the line you draw.
Try to do this several hours in a row if possible. Do you notice any patterns?
If weather permits, leave your sundial outside overnight and check its accuracy the next day.
How a Sundial Works:
People can use sundials to keep track of time by observing where the shadow falls on the surface of the sundial.
During the day the sun seems to move across the sky because the Earth is slowly spinning on its axis. The different position of the sun in the sky during the day causes the shadow on the sundial to change.
Each day the sun is close to the same position in the sky as it was the day before at that same time. This allows your homemade sundial to be fairly accurate.
You will also notice that when the sun’s position changes, the length of the shadow on the sundial also changes.
In the morning the shadow continues to get shorter and shorter and noon approaches. Then, in the afternoon, the shadow gets longer and longer.
Extensions for the Paper Plate Sundial STEM Activity
- Try making a more permanent sundial by sticking a strong stick into the ground and placing rocks around it to mark the hours. You can even write the hours with permanent marker on the rocks. It could be a fun addition to an outdoor play area or flower garden.
- Stand in the driveway or on a sidewalk and have someone trace your shadow with sidewalk chalk. Mark the time next to your shadow. Go back and do this again, standing in the same spot. Check out how the shape and direction of your shadow changes in your human sundial.
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