5 solar eclipse activities to do with children

There are plenty of fun eclipse activities to do with kids

Edwin Remsberg/Alamy

If you are planning to enjoy the total solar eclipse on 8 April with your children, here are a few activities you can do with them before and during the eclipse, to help them understand what causes a solar eclipse and get the most out of the experience.

1. Build an eclipse viewer

On the days leading up to the eclipse, you and your children can get excited about the big event by building an eclipse viewer. There are a few ways to do this – the first of which is a simple pinhole camera using two pieces of paper. Cut a hole in one piece of paper and cover it with aluminium foil, then poke a small hole in the foil. On the day of the eclipse, hold the paper up to let the sun beam through the hole and it will project a version of the eclipse onto a second piece of paper you place on the ground.

A slightly more complicated version involves a cereal or shoe box, placing paper at one end and cutting two holes in the other end. Over one of the two holes, you place some tin foil and, again, pierce it so that the sunlight can get through. More details on how to make both versions here.

ER8EXD Solar Eclipse. The moon moving in front of the sun. Illustration

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2. Build a solar eclipse model

Another activity that can be done ahead of the eclipse is building, or acting out, a model of the sun, moon and Earth to understand what a solar eclipse is. To build it, all you need is three sticks and three balls to place on top of the sticks. You can paint them or colour them in so that they resemble the sun, moon and Earth. Make sure the sun is bigger than the moon. Then, you can show your kids what an eclipse is by placing the sun in the centre, and moving Earth around the sun and the moon around Earth. When the three line up, with the moon in between the sun and Earth, we get a solar eclipse. When the moon is on the other side of Earth from the sun, we get lunar eclipses.

Your kids can also act out a solar eclipse. Give one of them a torch or flashlight, making them act as the sun, and ask them to shine the torch on a wall. The other, who is the moon, can move around until they block the torch light. They can both play around with moving forwards and backwards, to show why the distances between the moon, Earth and sun matter when it comes to eclipses.

3. Pop a balloon using sunlight

This is something that can be done on any sunny day. But on the day you are waiting for the total eclipse, you can show your kids how to use the power of sunlight to pop a balloon. You need a balloon and a magnifying glass for this activity. Blow up the balloon and then hold the magnifying glass up so that it magnifies the sunlight onto the balloon. Wait for a few minutes and, eventually, the balloon will pop. You can also make this more exciting by blowing up a white balloon inside a black one, and doing the same trick. The black balloon should pop, leaving the white balloon intact inside. You can use this to explain how black surfaces absorb sunlight, while light surfaces reflect them.

4. Play with shadows

On the day of the eclipse, while you are waiting for totality, the partial eclipse phase will last a few hours. You and your kids can get excited about the eclipse by noticing how shadows change, and playing around with this. If you have a tree nearby, look at the shadows it casts on the ground throughout the eclipse and you will see that they start to look like a sun with a bite taken out of it. This also works by crossing your fingers over each other and casting shadows on the ground. Another way to show the eclipse through shadows is using a colander, or anything with small holes in it. As the eclipse progresses, the shadows cast will start to take on the shape of the eclipse. You can punch a series of holes in a piece of paper to spell out a word or your kids’ names in these crescent shapes.

5. Draw shadows

This is another activity that can be done in the hours leading up to and after totality, again making the most of the interesting shadows created by a partially eclipsed sun. You can lay a big white piece of paper or sheet on the ground, and ask your kids to draw the shadows cast by different objects. If you do this at the start of the partial phase, and again closer to totality, they will be able to see how these shadows change as the eclipse progresses. You should notice that, in the lead-up to totality, shadows become much clearer as the amount of ambient light is reduced.

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