Easy Sundial – Kids Experiment

As complicated as learning about the Sun and the Earth’s rotation is, there’s a simple way to easily showcase it. You can replicate this sundial science experiment at home using very common objects. I used a pen and paper plate, so will guide you referring to that equipment, but just know the experiment no matter what you use. If you’re looking to get more creative for example, you can also build a sundial outside using objects from your garden such as a stick and a collection of stones.

You will need:

  • Some kind of canvas to design your sundial on (e.g. a piece of paper, a paper plate or ground outside)
  • A long, thin object to cast a shadow (e.g. a pen/pencil, stick or straw)
  • Something to mark the time (e.g. a pen/crayon or chalk on a stone)

Method:

  • Find a sunny spot in preparation for your sundial. If you’re building it outside, make sure any shade from surrounding objects won’t interfere.
  • If you so wish, you can decorate the canvas to your sundial however you want. Otherwise the first step to building your sundial is to pierce your paper plate with your pen. Try to make sure your pen is stuck upright and in the middle of the paper plate.
  • Depending on the time, you’ll want to mark a number on your paper plate so you can begin the experiment at that time. For example, you can start at exactly noon and mark a ’12’ at the top of your paper plate.
  • Next, head outside to your sunny spot and place your homemade sundial on the ground. Rotate your paper plate until the shadow of the pen lines up with the number you marked on it.
  • Over time, the shadow will shift and rotate all around your sundial. Every hour, mark the time on your paper plate to where the shadow of your pen lines up.
  • Do this until there is no more sunlight. On the following day, revisit your sundial – can you tell the time based on the direction of the shadow?

The Science Bit:

Hopefully this sundial science experiment should act as an interesting gateway to teaching your child about the time, the Earth and the Sun. Based on the direction of the shadow of a sundial, we can tell the time due to the sun moving across the sky – or so it appears! In actuality, it’s the Earth that’s rotating and only when we are facing the Sun that we can see it in the sky. Meaning that depending where you live on our planet, you’ll see the Sun appear at different times of the day.