Children learn by doing.
In fact, most people learn best, regardless of age, when they are able to physically and visually apply principles, concepts, and ideas rather than just reading about them. Teaching kids about solar can provide many positive benefits including stimulating creativity and critical thinking, encouraging good habits to save energy and money, providing an opportunity for bonding, and – most importantly – having fun!
Science fair projects help children realize that learning can be enjoyable and engaging. It’s important to introduce children to beneficial lifelong concepts while they are young. People often say children are like sponges and it’s so true. That’s why we should always try to avoid modeling poor behavior to children and instead, bring out positive things about the childrens’ abilities and character by allowing them to explore, experiment, and solve problems on their own or with your help. Don’t forget to praise your children for a job well done along the way and upon completion of anything.
For that reason, solar is a great topic to introduce to children. Depending on age and individual levels of learning, solar projects can help children put things together, reason, and understand how things work. They may even gain awareness of the impacts of wasted energy and start applying lessons learned by remembering to turn off the lights that aren’t in use. Can you imagine how much money can be saved if they remember to turn off household appliances and devices when not in use? By teaching children the basics of solar, children can then begin to understand in more detail the benefits that solar power can provide — from powering home appliances through solar panels to powering cars on the streets.
As mentioned earlier, projects like these can also give adults and children time to bond and form healthy attachments as well as trust. So what are you waiting for?
The following two solar energy science projects are neat projects that can introduce children to solar energy and how it works. To find more, you can simply browse the internet, visit a bookstore, or stop by a library. Enjoy!
Project #1: Solar Hot Dog Cooker
This project is for older students or for younger students with adult supervision. The purpose is to use heat from the sun to cook the hot dog.
A reflective hot dog cooker can be built from a cardboard box, tin foil, and posterboard. Sunlight hits the reflective surface and focuses on the hot dog held in the center. Students can work in pairs or individually if there are enough materials.
- A cardboard box
- tin foil
- poster board
Step 1: Select a long narrow box; the longer the box the more heat collection is possible. Choose a focal length between 5″ and 10″ and design a parabolic curve as seen in the picture. One template could be used for all the cookers. Trace the curve on the open end of the box so that it is centered and straight.
Step 2: Cut out the curve with a utility knife. Stress the importance of being exact. Measure and cut a piece of poster board that will fix flush against the opening to the box. Attach this with tape beginning at the center and working toward to edges.
Step 3: Cover the curve with white glue and apply aluminum foil shiny side out. Start in the middle and smooth toward the edges. Try not to wrinkle or fold the foil; you want it as smooth as possible.
Step 4: Use two scraps of cardboard taped to each side as supports. Using the sun or a projector light, test the focal point. There should be a bright spot where light is concentrated; mark this spot and punch a hole for the skewer. Use a section of a coat hanger from which the paint has been removed for a skewer.
Project #2: Solar Energy Experiment –- Water from Plants
This solar energy experiment draws water from plants using only the power of the sun. With just a shovel, a plastic sheet and a bowl it is possible to get fresh water from virtually any vegetation.
- a clear plastic sheet at least 75cm x 75cm (25 in x 25 in)
- 10 – 15 heavy stones
- a clean jar
- a pebble
- any kind of green plant matter
Step 1: Dig a hole in the ground approximately 30cm (10 in) deep and 60cm (20 in) in diameter. Collect any fresh green vegetation from the nearby area and fill the hole with them. Weeds and/or lawn clippings are ideal in a suburban environment.
Step 2: Place the jar in the center of the hole and make sure it has a firm foundation, i.e. it is resting on the ground and not on the vegetation.
Step 3: Cover the hole with the clear plastic sheet. Any color plastic sheet will work, but with a clear one you can SEE what is happening. Use the stones to weigh down the EDGES of the plastic sheet.
Step 4: Place the pebble in the center of the sheet so that it makes a dip in the plastic sheet, which must be EXACTLY above the jar in the hole.
What is Happening?
The heat from the sun is trapped by the plastic sheet. This makes the temperature in the hole rise. This in turn dries of the vegetable matter. The water vapor then reaches the plastic sheet (since hot air rises) where it condenses to form water. It does this because although the plastic sheet traps the heat, it is exposed to cooler air on the outside of the hole which makes it be at a lower temperature than the air in the hole.
The condensed water vapor runs down the underside of the sheet to the point where the pebble is sitting, and then drips into the cup.
IMPORTANT: While this is a good solar energy experiment and also has survival value, it is strongly recommended that your child DOES NOT DRINK THE WATER. It could contain toxins from herbicides or another source that are carried with the water when it evaporates. The plastic sheet may also be dirty.