Summer is finally here, bringing fun in the sun, time with friends and family, and lots of opportunities for learning. The “official” start of summer and longest day of the year, June 21, is also a great time to learn about summer solstice. Summer solstice occurs when the sun appears at its highest point in the sky in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s a great time to celebrate the official start of summer, and there are plenty of fun, educational ways to enjoy the summer solstice with your kids.
Encourage curiosity by asking your child questions about the relationship between the sun and the time of year, seasons and how it differs in different parts of the world.
For a more hands-on approach, you can have your child act as a human sundial and track thre sun throughout the day. Have your child pick a spot in your driveway or sidewalk that gets plenty of sun. Using sidewalk chalk, trace your child’s shadow on the pavement (or if your child wants to do the tracing, switch roles). Repeat this at different times throughout the day when it is sunny. You might set an alarm or use meal and snack times as your cue: 8 am, 10:30 am, 1 pm, 3:30 pm, and 6 pm. Use your chalk to record the time of day next to each shadow tracing. Then, make a note of where the sun is in the sky during each tracing.
After you’ve completed a few tracings, have your child observe the differences in their shadows. They can measure their shadow and record their observations in a notebook. When you’ve completed a day, discuss why their shadow changes. You might ask how their shadow changed according to the sun’s position, when their shadow was the shortest and longest, or if their shadow also changes through the year.
For summer solstice fun that also includes a classic, delicious summer snack, try making solar s’mores with the kids!
What you’ll need:
- Empty pizza box or cardboard box with lid
- Aluminum foil
- Black construction paper
- Clear plastic wrap
- Glue stick
- 1 ft long ruler, skewer, or stick
- X-acto knife or scissors
- Graham crackers
- Chocolate bars
How to play: Use a clean cardboard box with an attached lid, like an empty pizza box. Cut a square flap on the lid of the box, leaving about 1” to 2” of space from the edges of the box. The flap you cut should mirror the lid of the box, opening and closing from the hinge side of the lid.
Then, measure and cut a piece of aluminum foil large enough to line the bottom and sides of your box. Apply glue to the bottom and sides of your box and lay the foil pieces on it, dull side down. Next, measure and cut a piece of aluminum foil large enough to cover the inside of the flap you previously cut out. Glue this foil to the inside of the flap, dull side down.
Cut out a piece of black construction paper that’s 1” to 2” smaller than the bottom of your box. Center it on the foil bottom of your box, then tape it on top of the foil. Then, measure and cut plastic wrap that will fit over the bottom of the box when the lid is open. It will allow heat to enter and be trapped inside the box when the flap is open.
You’re ready to cook s’mores! Open the lid and place graham crackers, chocolate, and marshmallows on the black construction paper. Close the lid and open the flap you cut. Prop it open with a skewer, ruler, or stick. You can tape the end of the stick to the flap so it stays open. Set up your solar oven outside in a spot that will get plenty of sun. Check on it frequently to see if the chocolate has melted, and if the marshmallows have puffed up from the heat. When they’re ready to eat, top the marshmallows with another graham cracker and enjoy!
With this activity, you and your kids can talk about how the foil and black construction paperwork together to use the sun as a heat source. How would different weather affect the result? How hot did this solar oven get compared to the oven in your home?
On those extra hot summer days, take a break from the heat and have some summer solstice fun at night instead. Go stargazing in your backyard, in a park, on the beach, or in different locations around your city. This may be a younger child’s introduction to astronomy. Older kids can learn about stars, light, our solar system, and galaxies.
There are plenty of ways to make a stargazing activity your own. If your child is fascinated by the constellations, print out a guide or use one from a book and identify them together. Many constellations can easily be spotted and recognized. After identifying these constellations, you might talk about how they got their names and who discovered or named them.
If you’re visiting different locations to see the stars, talk to your child about the night sky will look different in a big city versus a rural area. You can even measure the differences using a light meter or a camera. Light pollution from homes, cars, streets, and other buildings will affect how easily you can see the stars. Air pollution and smog can also affect visibility. Does your city have a lot of atmospheric pollution? Where is the best place to go stargazing near your home?
All of these are fun, simple activities you can use to bring the summer solstice into your home, and to keep your child’s brain and imagination engaged. Here at Stratford School, we know the importance of summer learning and fun activities. With high expectations, encouraging teachers, and a rigorous curriculum, our programs set your child up for success during summer break and through the rest of the year. Learn more about what our programs have to offer your family!