Hands-on Activities Help Kids Understand the Weather
With April’s focus on the environment and the changing nature of the season, spring is a prime time to help kids understand a force that impacts our natural environment: the weather. Engage children in weather-related activities that help them practice science and math skills with the following ideas from Frances Nankin, the editorial director and executive producer of Cyberchase.
Read a thermometer
It’s easy to find the temperature through an online resource, but that doesn’t help kids learn to read a temperature scale. Using a nondigital thermometer, practice determining the temperature. If your child has a hard time telling the temperature when the thermometer’s bar or pointer is on a hash mark instead of right at a number, try enlarging a section of the thermometer scale to make it easier to figure out.
For example, you can draw the section between 60 and 70 degrees, dividing the distance between into five equal parts (using four hash marks). Help your child see that the hash marks represent more than 60 but less than 70. Since there are five equal parts, each mark must stand for 2 degrees. (Your child can count by twos from 60 to 70 to confirm this.)
Ask: What if the scale between 60 and 70 were divided in two equal sections with one hash mark? (The mark must represent 5 degrees.) Do the same for 10 equal sections. With practice, your child will be able to read the temperature using any thermometer and gain valuable practice reasoning about numbers, number patterns and estimation.
Look for patterns
Tracking the weather over a period of time helps children get experience collecting and analyzing data, using math in a way that helps them understand their world. One simple activity is to measure and record the temperature at the same time each morning and night. Make a table with columns labeled with the hours you take your measurements and rows labeled with the days of the week. Record the temperatures in each time/date cell. At the end of a week, talk about what the data reveals.
You might ask: Do you see a pattern in how the temperature changes from morning to night? The following week, have your child predict how the temperature will change on any given day from morning to night.
Or you might track wind direction at regular intervals over several weeks and record the weather that follows. To track wind direction, help your child make a simple wind sock and use a compass to mark north, south, east and west relative to where you hang the sock. Note that a north wind comes from or blows out of the north; a south wind comes from the south.
Use the collected data to note the prevailing winds for your area (the direction from which winds in your area typically come), as well as the weather these winds tend to bring. You can use this information to predict the type of weather you are likely to have.
See how much rain falls
Measuring how much rain fell after a storm gives your child valuable experience working with fractions and mixed numbers. To measure rainfall in a 24-hour period, place a flat-bottomed, straight-sided see-through container (a plastic quart-size storage container works well) in an area free of overhangs or tree branches. After a rainstorm, have your child hold a ruler upright in the container and measure from the bottom to the surface of the water.
To help your child understand the ruler’s hash marks representing fractions of an inch, color each fraction hash mark a different color. Color the 1/2-inch marks red, for example, the 1/4-inch marks blue and the 1/8-inch marks green.
Once you’ve measured how much rain fell, figure out how much snow would have fallen if the conditions been right to turn the rain into snow. To approximate the amount, multiply the amount of rain that fell by 10. (For example, one inch of rain would have been about 10 inches of snow.)
Measure the strength of the wind
Is today a good day to fly a kite, sail a boat or play outside with a pinwheel? It’s easy enough see if the wind is pushing hard on tree branches, but just how hard is it blowing? And does it blow harder in one place than another? You don’t need fancy equipment to find the answer: Your child can make a simple wind gauge, practice reading numbers to compare wind strengths, and find the windiest place to fly that kite!
To measure the wind’s strength, you need a length of string with a paper clip attached to one end and a number scale to see how far the wind pushes the string when it blows. To make the scale, anchor the string to one corner of a piece of cardboard and swing it upwards to draw an arc (because the string will arc upwards when the wind blows). Add equally spaced numbered hash marks along the arc starting at zero where the string hangs down straight.
Hold the card vertically so the wind can blow the string along the arc. Point this simple gauge into the wind and read off where the string is pushed to on the scale.
Test weather lore
“A sunshiny shower won’t last half an hour.” “Evening red and morning gray are sure signs of a fine day.” Are these weather-related sayings true or just folklore? Invite your child to pick a favorite saying to test over time. Begin by asking what you need to find out to determine if the saying is true. Make a journal and take notes each time the weather conditions match the saying. Test more than once or twice to see if there is a pattern of truth to the saying.
If the saying is true more often than not, have fun using it as a fun weather predictor.
Cyberchase premieres new episodes on PBS starting April 20, 2009, that feature a meteorologist as part of its Weather Watchers initiative.
Additional activities for parents and teachers are available at www.pbskids.org/cyberchase.