By Lisa King

Children are never too young to learn about solar energy, and they learn best when using their senses.That’s why these interactive solar energy activities are a perfect way to help your preschoolers understand how the Sun works. Come on, soak up the Sun!

## Introducing Solar Energy

Teaching small children about solar energy with all the big terms can be difficult. An easier way to explain solar power is by getting them  involved in hands-on activities. Start by asking students what the Sun does for us. Explain that without the heat it generates, living things would not exist. The Sun gives heat, light and energy.

Have children stretch their arms as wide as they can. Tell students that the Sun's arms are called rays and when the Sun stretches its arms, which are very hot, the object it touches or comes close to becomes very hot. Explain that the rays are made of light which we can see and feel in the day; but at night, the Sun becomes invisible.

We can feel solar energy in two ways: through heat and electricity. Take children outside and let them feel the Sun. (Tell them never to look directly into it because it could harm their eyes.)

## Solar Surprise

Ask children if they think some colors get hotter than other colors? If they answer yes, ask them which colors get hotter and why. Tell them they are going to do a science experiment to find out the answer and they will also find a solar surprise that is left behind after their ice blocks are melted.

Materials:

Empty, clean milk cartons

Food coloring

Small toys

Water

The Sun

What to do:

• The teacher will give each child a milk carton.
• The students will fill their milk carton with water and put a few drops of food coloring in the water (their choice).
• The teacher will leave one without food coloring, and make sure one is black or a very dark color.
• The teacher will place small toys or trinkets inside the cubes before placing them in the freezer.

The next day, tell the children they are going to see which ice block will melt the fastest and when their ice is melted, there will be a surprise for each of them; a solar surprise!

Ask children who they think will get their surprise first? Which color of block will melt first? Take the colored ice blocks outside and place them directly in the sun. The dark-colored ice block will melt first. Explain to children that darker colors absorb more sunlight than light colors. Black absorbs the most sunlight of all, that is why the dark colored ice block melted so quickly. The light colored ice block melted last because it doesn't absorb as much of the Sun's energy. After they find their surprises, they may play with them outside.

Students will learn about the Sun's energy while creating Sun animal pictures they are sure to love. Have children draw their favorite animal on a piece of heavy card stock paper and cut it out. When all the children have finished their animals take them outside and place them on black construction paper. Place rocks on top of the animals to make sure they don't blow away. Leave in the Sun for a day or two. The solar energy will fade the paper leaving beautiful animal shadows. Display them around the room. Explain that the Sun's UV rays are so strong that they faded the paper. The animals were protecting the paper from the Sun. We must also protect ourselves by wearing sunblock lotion in order to avoid sunburn. The sunblock lotion protects us like the animal shape protected the paper.

## Blow up a Balloon With the Sun

Tell children that the Sun produces enough energy to blow up a balloon.

Materials:

Two balloons

Two plastic bottles

Black and white paint

The Sun

What to do:

The children will paint one bottle black and one white. The teacher will take the bottles outside and place a balloon over the mouth of the bottles. Make sure the balloons form an air-tight seal. The balloon on the white bottle will stay deflated. The balloon on the black bottle will start to expand. Have students touch both of the balloons. The balloon on the black bottle will feel warm, the white bottle will feel much cooler.

The black bottle will absorb the solar energy while the white bottle reflects the energy away from itself. As the black bottle absorbs energy, the air inside the bottle warms up causing the balloon to fill with air and expand.

## Solar-Powered Science Experiment

Children will love learning how the Sun makes electricity while participating in this hot science experiment. Explain to children the Sun is powerful enough to make electricity, and people use solar panels and the Sun to heat their homes.

Materials:

2 Solar-powered garden lights

Science Experiment Directions:

Place a solar light in the closet and one in the Sun. Explain to students that the light in the closet is not lighting up because it has not had energy from the Sun. After the other solar light has been sitting in the Sun a few hours bring it inside and show the class how the solar energy powers the light in the dark closet.

Preschool children will have a ball while learning lessons about solar energy with these fun activities. Some additional activities could involve buying UV beads and having your classroom make bracelets and singing songs to go along with the activities such as "Mr. Sun," or even making a solar oven. Whichever activities you choose, your classroom is sure to shine.

## References

Black and White Bottle Experiment from Green Education Foundation