Solar Powered Learning for Kids

by Guest-Author on December 6, 2013

What kinds of energies supply your appliances and gadgets? You probably have gas, electricity, and batteries all under one roof. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a simpler, more natural way to power up?

That convenient source of life exists, right under – or rather, above – your nose! The sun has provided planet Earth’s energy for billions of years – much longer than any other power source. As long as life exists, so will the sun.

Solar energy is free, plentiful and renewable – after you use it, you can grab some more as long as it’s daytime and not too cloudy.

Solar power can be used for light, heat, and electricity. The sun’s rays are converted in three ways:

Photovoltaic cells are used in solar panels to turn light into electricity. Solar cells are everywhere, in all sizes – from a simple wristwatch to solar power plants that provide electricity to entire towns!

Solar thermal technology harnesses the heat of the sun and converts it to steam to produce electricity. This can be used in homes, office buildings, and swimming pools.

Passive solar heating uses the natural warmth of the sun’s rays and purposeful positioning to heat a building directly. Have you ever seen a cat strategically dozing by a window that faces south?

As the saying goes, children – and solar energy – are our future. Below are some exciting, simple projects for kids involving solar energy and power – because learning a little bit about sunlight can make you a whole lot brighter!

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ROY G BIV
You don’t have to wait for rain to see a rainbow. Create one in your own home!

Materials:

  • White sheet of paper
  • Glass of water
  • A sunny spot

Instructions:

  1. Sit near a window that faces the sun.
  2. Hold the glass of water above the paper.
  3. Wonder at the colorful rainbow created simply by the sunlight shining through the water!

What causes a rainbow? Light is made up of all these colors – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Normally, your eyes see them all together as white light. When sunlight passes through water, like when it rains, it is bent and splits into all its colors, creating a rainbow.

Dark Matters
Do certain colors absorb more sunlight? Watch passive solar heating at work with your very eyes.

Materials:

  • 1 piece of black cardstock or heavy paper
  • 1 piece of white cardstock or heavy paper
  • 2 ice cubes of the same size and shape
  • A sunny spot

Instructions:

  1. Find a level surface outside in the sunlight.
  2. Set the two pieces of cardstock side by side.
  3. Place an ice cube on each piece of cardstock.
  4. Watch the ice cubes melt!

Why did the ice cube on the black paper melt faster? The white paper reflects more light and absorbs less, so it doesn’t get as hot. The black reflects less light and absorbs more, heating it up. Is it more comfortable to wear dark or light colored clothing in the summer?

Backyard Sundial
Before there were wristwatches and cuckoo clocks, our ancestors used solar power!

Materials:

  • Markers/crayons
  • Paper plate
  • Sharpened pencil
  • Several pushpins
  • Plastic straw
  • Ruler

Instructions:

  1. Get the clock face ready.
    • Start this project on a sunny morning.
    • Write the number “12” on the edge of the convex side of the plate with a marker.
    • With the pencil, poke a hole in the very center of the paper plate.
    • Using the ruler, trace a straight line from the “12” to the hole at the center.
  2. Go outside.
    • At a few minutes to noon, take the plate, straw and pushpins outside to a sunny place.
    • Put the plate on the ground and poke the straw through the center hole.
    • Slant the straw towards the line that connects “12” to the hole.
    • Align the straw’s shadow with the line by turning the plate.
    • Secure your sundial to the ground with the pushpins.
  3. Check the time every hour.
    • One hour later – at one o’clock p.m. – check your sundial.
    • Write a “1” at the edge of the plate where the straw’s shadow now falls.
    • Predict where the next shadow will fall in another hour.
    • Continue checking the clock every hour and marking the time.

You can now tell time just with the power of the sun! Why does the shadow move? As the planet rotates, the sun falls to Earth in a different position. After the sun goes down, how can you complete the clock’s face? At night, where does the sun go, exactly?

Solar energy is the cleanest and most Eco-friendly renewable energy option for powering our world. Soon, it may be a part of everyday life in all viable locations. Creating a connection between a child’s imagination and the natural wonder of the sun can be just as powerful.

Chris Long has been a store associate at a Chicago-area Home Depot since 2000. He is also a regular contributor to Home Depot’s websites, writing on electrical and other DIY topics for homeowners. He provides tips on household topics important to homeowners, ranging from solar power to LED light bulbs.

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