Air currents are a major cause of weather, but because children cannot see air, it can be hard for them to understand it as a real and powerful force. Try these activities to help young children understand the forces at work behind the weather.
Experiences with Wind
- One simple way to experience air is to feel its movement and watch its effect by creating wind. Lay out a variety of objects: a feather, a paper bag, a paper cup, a marble, a ball, a rock, a pencil, etc. Then ask children to try to move the objects by blowing on them. Observe the moment of the objects. Try again with a hand air pump (children love playing with these). Record the movement of the objects again. Try other ways to make wind, like a paper fan or air from a balloon. What was the difference between the methods? How did the different tools change how the objects moved?
- Use a wind vane to experienc wind direction. You can purchase one or use these directions from Howcast.com to make your own. Using your "wind making tools", allow children to try to make the wind vane move. How can they use the wind vane to show wind direction? What can they learn from watching the wind vane?
- Use an anemometer to show wind speed. You can purchase one or use this cute guide by WeatherAnchorMama to make your own. Have the children blow on the anemometer and count how many times the marked cups spins around. What makes the wind blow the fastest? What makes it blow slowest?
- Make a wind sock by cutting out the bottom of a paper bag, decorating the bag to personalize it, and tying (or taping) yarn to one end. Hold on to the yarn and drag the paper bag through the air. What happens as air moves through the bag?
Experiences with Air Current
- Try these experiments by Jared Hottenstein to show that warm air rises and cold air sinks. (Be careful with these ones as they involve heat. Keep yourself and your children safe when trying these experiments!
- Another way to show air currents is with a lamp and powder, Turn on the lamp. It will heat up and warm the air above it. Have the children sprinkle a small amount of powder over the lamp. The powder will float in the air currents above the lamp.
Experiences with Lightning & Thunder
- Purchase thunder tubes, rain sticks, and glow sticks, or make your own using these guides from Instructables and Exploratorium. Turn of the lights and have the children create a dance to represent a thunderstorm.
- Make it rain in a jar. Fill a glass jar with boiling water. Set a bowl on top and fill it with ice cubes. The hot water in the jar will evaporate and then condense at the top of the jar. Soon, water droplets will begin to fall like rain.
- Rub two balloons with wool (or your hair). Bring the balloons together in the dark and you will see a spark of static electricity. That's the same kind of electricity that causes lightning!
Experiences With Clouds
- Make a cloud in a bottle. Fill a large jar with hot water, swirl the water around to heat up the sides of the jar. Pour out all of the water except for a small amount at the bottom. Set something over the top of the jar (like a strainer, bowl, or the lid of the jar) and fill it with ice cubes. Let it sit for a moment. Take off the lid and quickly spray in some hairspray. Cover the jar top with the ice cubes again. The water vapor will attach to the hairspray and create a cloud inside the jar.
- Go outside and observe the clouds, then make cloud art from white felt, cotton balls, or by blotting white paint on paper.
- Clouds can be used to predict the weather. Use a table (such as the one below) to keep track of clouds and the weather that comes with them. In the morning, draw a picture of the clouds in the sky. In the afternoon, observe the weather. What kinds of clouds predict what kinds of weather?
Experiences With The Effects of Weather
- One of the most personal experiences a child can have with weather, is the effect it has on them. Discuss how weather effects clothing choices and activities. How does weather effect each child personally? Stories about the weather can be an excellent prompt for student writing.