Children ages 4 to 7 create a wind streamer out of common materials and use it to determine the wind’s direction, in this 15 minute activity.
- Share ideas and knowledge.
- Introduce yourself and the library. Help the children learn each other’s names (if they don’t already).
- Frame the activity with the main message: Weather on Earth is always changing, but scientists — and children — can watch and note the different types of weather.
- Invite the children to talk about what they already know about weather, what they’ve experienced at home and their ideas for how they might detect or measure it. Use open-ended questions and invite the children to talk with you and each other.
Young children have built an understanding of weather through direct experiences with wind, clouds, rain and snow, and heat and cold. Use discussion to help them start to think about these prior experiences and build new understandings about the tools that scientists use to understand wind (and more broadly, changes in weather). Some conversation-starters are:
- What is today’s weather like?
- What would be the opposite type of weather? What other kinds of weather are there?
- How does the weather affect what you do every day?
- Do you think that today’s weather “normal” for this season?
- What do you think the weather will be like tomorrow and why?
- What kinds of weather instruments have you seen at your home or in the community? Does your family have a wind vane or wind chime at home? A thermometer? A rain gauge?
- Guide the children in building a wind streamer. Explain that scientists use tools to detect the wind’s direction and the children will be making their own tool, a wind streamer, to use at home. Have the children follow these steps:
- Color the wind graphic and cut it out along the black circle.
- Prepare the plate, starting with the bottom, flat side:
- Draw a large, straight cross through the center of the bottom side of the plate.
- At each of the four ends of the cross, and about 1.5 cm (less than an inch) from the edge of the plate, cut a small hole.
- Cut four crepe paper streamers, each measuring about 1 meter (or about the length of a child’s outstretched arms) in length.
- Thread each streamer through a different hole and tie it to the edge of the plate.
- Glue or tape the colored wind graphic on the bottom of the plate so that the compass rose lines up with the cross. Glue or tape the instructions onto the plate for easy reference by an adult helper or parent at home.
The children may have ideas about what causes wind, including that clouds or trees cause the wind. For young children, it is important that they observe wind, rather than try to explain or model where it comes from.
Older children and parents may be interested in a deeper explanation. Wind is simply air molecules in motion. The Sun's light heats Earth's surface, and that heat is passed to air touching the ground. The warm air becomes less dense and rises. As cold air moves in to replace the rising air, we feel wind.
- Demonstrate how the children will use their new tools at home! Hold the example wind streamer horizontally in front of you, so that the plate is parallel to the ground. Grasp the edge of the plate near the letter "S" and turn to face north so that the "N" on the wind streamer is pointing to the north. Demonstrate that the wind will push the streamers toward one of the cardinal directions noted on the plate. Remind the children that they may have heard weather forecasters on television say that “the wind is blowing out of the north.” Emphasize that a wind blowing from the north blows the crepe paper to the south.
The cardinal directions marked on the face of the wind streamer may lead some to refer to it as a "compass." The wind streamer is more like a wind sock or wind vane than a compass! Gently guide children and their families toward the use of "wind streamer" (or another related term) instead of "compass" to avoid confusion. (A compass needle is a tiny magnet, and the north or south pole of the needle line up with Earth's magnetic field.) The wind streamer will not help them find North — but it will help them determine the wind's direction!
- Conclude. Summarize that we can detect and measure the ever-changing weather with weather instruments. Encourage the children to take their creations home with them and use them to note changes in weather over the course of a day, a week, or a season. Invite them to return to share their findings with you.