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Day 47: Set up a sundial and a nature riddle

Outdoor activity ideas and inspiration

From mid-March to the end of May 2020, Harpswell Heritage Land Trust (HHLT) posted a simple outdoor activity idea and nature riddle for kids every weekday. Some days we also posted other resources, like downloadable chapters of the Junior Ranger Activity Book.

Created to support parents who found themselves homeschooling during the COVID-19 pandemic, these activity ideas are a great jumping off point for any outdoor adventure. Click here for a list with links to all 50 activity ideas.

Nature riddle

This plant, named in part after a flightless bird, is a popular wild-harvested delicacy in spring. It does not make flowers or seeds, but reproduces by spores. What is it? Click here to read more about this fascinating plant.

Set up a sundial

A sundial is a kind of clock that tells the time of day by the position of the sun in the sky and the shadow it makes. Watching the shadow that a vertical object makes is a great way to learn about the path the sun takes across the sky.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Make slips of paper with the following written on them (the exact times are flexible, just try to space them evenly throughout the day).
    • Actual 10 am
    • Prediction 12 pm
    • Actual 12 pm
    • Predication 2 pm
    • Actual 2 pm
    • Prediction 4 pm
    • Actual 4 pm
  2. Pound a wooden stake into the ground, or find something else that will cast a shadow in all directions.
  3. Collect rocks to hold down the slips of paper.
  4. At 10 am (or whatever time you choose to start), place your “Actual 10 am” slip of paper at the end of the shadow cast by your sundial, weighed down with a rock.
  5. Ask your children:
    1. Where is the sun right now?
    2. Where is the sundial’s shadow right now?
    3. What do you notice about the shadow?
    4. Can you trace the path the sun will take across the sky with your finger? Where does it rise? Where does it set?
    5. Thinking about where the sun and shadow are now, can you make some predictions about where the end of the shadow will be at 12 pm, 2 pm and 4 pm (or whatever times you choose)?
  6. Have your children place the prediction slips on the ground where they think the end of the shadow will be at those times. Weigh them down with rocks.
  7. Set an alarm on your phone and return to the sundial at the times you decided. Place the actual slips where the end of the shadow hits the ground. Compare predictions with actual.
  8. Note that the point of this is not to get it right. Scientists make predictions that are wrong all the time. That’s how we learn!
  9. I haven’t tried doing this over a longer time period than one day, but it would be cool to see how the position of the sun changes over a week or a month. Maybe you could paint dates and times on rocks so they could stand up to the rain.