Solar energy is considered a renewable energy source as it comes from a natural resource- the sun. Solar energy is a very viable source of energy in some areas of the United States. It is successfully being used by some energy companies to supply clean electricity both commercially and residentially. Teaching your children about how solar energy works is a great way for them to learn about sustainability and to get them interested in science. Here I share resources for kids to learn about solar energy including games, activities, crafts and lesson plans.
Solar energy is radiant energy emitted from the sun and solar power is obtained by harvesting that energy. The most common way we harvest solar energy is through the use of solar panels but other ways are solar thermal energy, biofuels, and artificial photosynthesis.
How Does Solar Energy Work For Kids
Kids of all ages can be interested in learning about solar power. Obviously, you will have to adapt your lessons on how solar energy works to the age of the child.
I suggest starting with the basics of exactly what solar power is and why it is a useful. Discuss with your child why the sun is such a great potential source of energy verses other non renewable energy resources. Then you can get into more specifics on the process of harnessing solar energy for everyday use.
Ask students questions about solar energy to get them involved and thinking. They don’t have to know all the answers. They are just to start discussion and get them curious about the importance of solar energy. Here are a few example questions:
- How is solar energy used?
- Where does solar energy come from?
- Why is solar energy good?
- How is solar energy made?
You will likely be surprised with what good thoughts they can come up with. Encourage them and build their self-esteem by looking for nuggets of value in their answers and expanding upon those to introduce concepts they may not be aware of. For example, “Yes, you are exactly right the sun’s light does shine for free and another great thing about solar energy is that solar power panels do not create any CO2 emissions.” Energy from the sun makes a clean alternative to natural gas and fossil fuels. You can go into lots of detail on these points with older kids.
What Is Solar Energy For Kids?
You can give them examples of how solar power is currently used. There are some cool interesting examples like the solar powered super trees in the Garden by The Bay and the new Smart Flower I saw on ’60 Minutes’.
Now, kids will likely want to know, “How do solar panels work?” Here is a simplistic explanation of how we use solar cells to harness the power of the sun:
When the sun’s energy shines on a solar cell, also known as photovoltaic (PV) cell, that light may be reflected, absorbed, or pass right through the cell. The PV cell is composed of semiconductor material such as silicon. The “semi” classification means that it can conduct electricity better than an insulator but not as well as a conductor like a metal.
When the semiconductor is exposed to light, it absorbs the light’s energy and transfers it to negatively charged particles in the material called electrons. The electrons to flow through the photovoltaic cells material as an electrical current. This energy is extracted through conductive metal contacts on a PV cells and can then be used to power your home or solar power systems.
The electricity generation from a solar system will vary based on the efficiency of the solar cell, the amount of sunlight, and the strength of solar radiation.
This explanation was adapted from https://www.energy.gov/ and there are more details there if your child is ready for it.
Solar Power For Kids: Hands On Learning Projects And Activities
When it comes to learning about how solar energy works, kids will love hands on experiences. If you have solar panels or know of a building that does, you might take your kids to see the solar panels and let them get a close up look and see how it works. There are also lots of videos you might find online or books you can check out from the library to let your kids try hands on lessons.
When my kids were 4 and 6 but I got them a little solar kit toy from a website which was very reasonably priced. They watched me follow the instructions and helped gather the pieces to assemble their solar powered toy. They loved it and got a huge kick out of taking it in and out of the sun to see it begin working and stop working (photo above).
My daughter wanted to experiment with using a magnifying glass to increase solar power so on a sunny day, with my adult supervision and help, she made a small fire using a magnifying glass. She loved that hands on solar science experiment!
Resources For Teaching Kids About Solar Energy
Here are some great resource for teaching your kids about solar energy and some interesting solar facts.
- Generate: The Game of Energy Choices
This page contains all of the printable materials for an interactive solar game that allows students to explore energy choices and teaches the considerations and costs. epa.gov
- Solar Energy Statistics
This page offers 44 statistics and facts on solar energy. solstice.us
- The Importance of the Sun
A solar lesson plan for grades 5-8 that covers the potential energy inherent in the sun’s daily output and activities to enhance student understanding. nea.org
- Solar Energy Activities
Even preschoolers can get in on the fun with these simple hands on projects that teach them about heat coming from the sun. brighthubeducation.com
- How To Make A Solar Oven
A great solar science craft to teach kids harnessing the power of the sun by building a solar oven. mamaguru.com
- DIY Solar Night Lights
This is a fun solar craft for younger kids. It is a great opportunity to talk about how solar energy works and let them see it in action. tinkerlab.com
- Make a solar water heater
This is a cool solar project kids can help make and then benefit from. How to make a homemade solar water heater for the pool. thethingswellmake.com
Teaching your kids how solar energy works and why it is important can give your kids a huge leg up. It can help kids understand energy related issues and introduce them to scientific concepts. It also offers a great way to bond with your child. Talking about solar power is a great way to interest the future generation in the idea of renewable energy sources.
Here is a little video of my kids playing with their solar powered toy after building it.
What are some solar power experiences you have shared with your child? How did they react?
Share your ideas, experiences, and solar power learning resources @familyfocusblog