Acting out day and night
Classroom Activity for 5-11
What the Activity is for
Accounting for day and night is quite complex, and we suggest that the very best way for children to develop a helpful understand this is to act out a model of the process.
What to Prepare
- a simple tabard by laminating two A4 pictures of the Earth, use a hole punch to make 2 holes at the top of each picture, so string can be threaded through and they can hang over a child's neck – one on the front and one on the back.
- another tabard, similarly, for the Sun
- another tabard, similarly, for the Moon
What Happens During this Activity
Ask a child to stand in front of the class, wearing the Earth tabard. Tell them that they are the Earth and their nose is the U.K. Shine a torch at them (not too bright a torch!) and then ask them to spin around very slowly. Tell them that the torch represents the light from the Sun. When they are facing away from the torch, tell them to stop and ask the class what time of day it is. The nose of the person
being the Earth will not be in the light of the torch so it is dark and night time in the UK. Ask them to spin again until they are directly facing the torch and ask what time of day it is now
It really helps the children to experience this for themselves. They can pair up with torches and take turns in being the Sun (holding the torch) and being the Earth (spinning).
Children know that day and night last 24 hours so, by acting this out, they will know at a deep level that the Earth spins on its own axis once every 24 hours.
You can also model this motion for the class with a globe and a torch but don't let them miss out on acting it out for themselves.
The Earth spins on its own axis as we have discussed but it also goes around (orbits) the Sun.
More acting is needed here: using the tabards again, the Sun stands at the centre and the Earth spins and at the same time travels around the Sun.
The Earth goes around (orbits) the Sun once a year.
Now ask the child
being the Earth how they feel. They will be pretty dizzy!
This dizziness can lead on to the next big question.
Connect this dizziness into the observation that as when we look around us, it does not look at all as though we are moving.
Teacher: We have said the Earth is spinning and also going around the Sun, so why don't we sense the motion?
A common answer is that we are not moving very fast but this is not the case at all – the Earth spins around so we are moving at about 700 mph in the UK and, as well as this, it is also orbiting the Sun at a speed of about 66 000 mph.
A Year 5 child quickly came up with this answer:
Lucy: Because everything is moving with us, the trees, houses and everything.
Which is absolutely right – all motion is relative! We do not have an idea we are moving unless we can see something that isn't or is moving at a different rate. This is why, when we are sitting on a train at a station and the train next to us seems to move, we can't tell if it is our train moving or the neighbouring train. In order to know, we have to look at the platform and if that it still, we are certainly not moving. There is more on this is the SPT: Motion and force topic.