Making a Paper Plate Sundial

The sun is so important to earth! It provides warmth, light, helps plants grow, and it can help tell the time! Making a paper plate sundial experiment is a cool way to introduce time and shade to children. Although the sundial is not very accurate throughout the whole experiment, it’s still an interesting way to tell time!

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Activity PDF

What time is it?

A sundial shows the current solar time during the day. It does this because the sun appears to move through the sky. At different times in the day when the sun is shining, a shadow is cast in different places on the dial. What would we do without our favorite star in the whole galaxy?!

📚Did you know? The part of a sundial that casts the shadow is called the “gnomon.”

🇮🇳 The largest sundial is located in India and covers over an acre of land! 

❄️Try in the winter! Try this activity throughout the year. Do you need to move your sundial to get the same shadow throughout the year?

Materials

For this activity you will need:

Paper Plate

Crayons/Markers/Pencil Crayons

Scissors

Sticky Tac or Playdough

Straw

Small rocks

Ruler

Compass (optional)

Learning Outcomes

Domain

Cognitive

Skills

Representing Numbers

Indicators:

Representing numbers in different ways

Instructions

Step 1:

Start this project just before noon on a sunny day. 

Step 2:

Take your scissors and poke a hole through the center of the plate. 

Step 3:

Write the number 12 at the top of the plate with a marker. 

Step 4:

Using a ruler, draw a faint, straight line from the number 12 to the bottom center of the plate and write the number 6.

Step 5:

Continue writing numbers around the plate similar to a clock, using the 12 and 6 as a guide.

Step 6:

Take your plate and straw outside around 12:00 PM and poke the straw through the center hole. Use playdough under the plate to secure the straw from falling down.

Step 7:

Now, turn the plate so the shadow of the straw runs along the line to the number 12.

Step 8:

Secure the plate to the ground using a few small rocks to weight it down. Check back in an hour to see if your shadow moved.

*NOTE* The sundial will not be exact to the time.

⬆️ For older preschoolers: Compare your sundial to an accurate clock; is one fast or slow?

⬇️ For younger toddlers: The concept of time might be a bit hard to grasp for younger toddlers. You can use a time lapse feature on your phone to show the shadow moving across the plate over several hours if they’re a bit impatient!

Playful Questions

What would happen if we completed this activity every day at the same time for a month - would our sundial still line up?

What are other ways we can tell time without a clock?

If the shadow is in between numbers, what does that mean?

What would happen if we did not point the sundial exactly North?