Fly a Kite with Your Kids (and Teach Them a Bit of Engineering)

As Spring approaches, March winds bring memories of running down the street trying to get a kite in the air.

As Spring approaches, March winds bring memories of running down the street trying to get a kite in the air. With many families focused on soccer and dance practice plus homework and chores, we’ve forgotten to make time for joyous fun. After all, when was the last time you went running through a field with your kids? As a bonus, you can use your kite flying time to teach your children about engineering and aerodynamics.

Children can create simple kites from paper, light wood, and string or purchase simple to complex kits at local stores or online. There are four basic parts to a simple kite.

Every kite begins with a lifting surface (usually called the sail). The sail can be made of any number of materials including paper, silk, old t-shirts, or ribbon. The sail is supported by a structure or framework. Framework designs can be traditional quadrilateral or stretched diamond shape. More complex patterns can have a series of connected box shapes. Other shapes include the sled, 3-spar barndoor, and the delta kite which is recommended for beginners. The framework is attached to a line or string. There are different ways to attach the line to the frame including a direct tie or with line segments that can be adjusted to change the flight angle. The last part of the kite is the tail. Depending on the design of the kite, the tail can be ornamental or can be designed to provide stability to the kite.

No one knows who created the first kite, but there are many known uses of kites throughout history. In peace times, kites have been used to move things over land and across rivers. Scientists have used kites to test theories ranging from electricity to aviation. In wartime, kites have been used to disrupt radar signals and gather information. More recently, kites have become the basis of varying sports that combine the kites with boards (for water or snow surfing) and wheels or skates (for Kite buggying and Kite skating). These historical and modern uses can be great inspiration for flying a kite with your children.

Kites in the sky

Whether trying to carry a ball or just doing stunts, let your children choose and assemble their kite since building the kite is a large part of the total experience. Children enjoy crafts and take pride in putting things together. Allow for creativity by encouraging children to add designs to the sail using markers and stickers. Making the tail can be a lot of fun as children can practice tying knots or weaving materials together.

Once the kite is completed and before attempting to fly it, the children should learn some safety rules. First, choose a flying location that is open and away from obstacles. Always keep the kite under control and be able to quickly reel it in if necessary. Be aware of kite lines as they can wrap around people, trees, and light poles causing damage. NEVER fly kites near power lines, an airport, or near cars or other people. Make sure to check the weather and don’t fly a kite in a storm.

Now, it’s time to check the wind which is a great opportunity to teach children about wind speed, direction, crosswinds, updrafts, and gusts. Lacking wind is a challenge but so is too much wind which can break the kite or cause it to spiral out of control. Ideal conditions will vary based on the design of the kite, but most kites do well with 4-10 mph winds. You don’t need to feel a strong wind; a breeze is usually enough to fly a simple kite.

Kite Flying

Kite flying provides hundreds of opportunities for children to experiment with design, technique, and aerodynamics. Younger children may simply like to watch the kite in the sky while older children may get into the aerodynamics of varying designs and even begin to develop their own unique versions. Elementary-aged children may want to build a kite to carry a camera or ball while older children can determine the center of gravity after learning about the forces on a kite.

Kite flying is a great activity for children of many ages. There is a sense of accomplishment when c children build a kite and see it fly. Take a few hours this weekend and challenge everyone in your family to build a kite, then see which one flies the highest.

4 Fantastic STEM Activities to Explore with Young Children

STEM incorporates science, technology, engineering, and math with hands on learning and problem solving.

STEM incorporates science, technology, engineering, and math with hands-on learning and problem-solving. STEM lessons are important to help children develop problem-solving and strategic thinking skills. Before sharing 4 activities, let’s discuss 4 steps to use with children in addition to the hands-on activity to help facilitate their learning. Going through each of these steps will help the child better understand the lessons in each activity.

1. How can this activity be used in the real world? Why does this experiment or activity matter in their world?

2. What is the problem? Why do you want to find an answer?

3. Conduct an experiment. Gather all the materials needed and guide the student through the process. Don’t do too much for the child as the learning is in the investigation. Let the child come to their own conclusions.

4. Reflect on what happened by asking questions. When the activity is complete, ask the child what they built or how it worked. Let the child reflect on the science behind the results and have them explain it in their own words.

Now we will look at four specific examples of STEM activities. Each activity will identify the question that the child is trying to answer. Then you will see a list of materials needed for the activity. There are also directions to help you guide the child through the activity and ways to encourage the child to go a little deeper into the topic and learn even more. Here are 4 STEM activities for young children that are easy to do at home using household items.

fingerprintScience Activity – Comparing fingerprints. Everyone has fingerprints and that’s what makes us unique! This activity allows children to investigate their own uniqueness and how their fingerprint compares to others.

Objective: How does my fingerprint compare to other fingerprints?

Materials: Clear tape, black construction paper, magnifying glass, pencil and paper

Directions: Help children investigate their thumbprint with a naked eye as well as with a small magnifying glass. For further investigating, place a piece of tape over the child’s thumb. After removing the tape, place it on the black construction paper. Continue this process with each child in the group and yourself, too. Have children talk about what looks the same and what looks different on each print. Then, have the children draw what they see.

Extra Engagement: You can extend this activity by having the children observe and compare prints on their other fingers and even their toes. You can also expand how fingerprints compare to other items such as art, patterns, and shapes.

popsicle stick catapultTechnology Activity – Popsicle stick catapult. Simple machines are all around us and we use them for everyday activities. A lever is a simple machine that consists of a bar placed on a pivot to move heavy loads.

Objective: How can you move the marshmallow using the provided materials?

Materials: How can you move the marshmallow using the provided materials?

Directions: Help children build a lever, deciding which of the materials they need and how many of each. Continue to have children use trial and error strategies until they are able to catapult the marshmallow.

Extra Engagement: Add straws, paper towel rolls and other materials to modify and create new catapult designs.

roller coaster racing cars

Engineering – Roller coaster racing cars. Roller coasters zoom downhill faster than uphill or on level ground but by how much? This activity visualizes different speeds depending on the slope of the ride and can be applied to riding a bike down a hill or watching a ball roll away.

Objective: How do different ramp slopes impact a car’s speed?

Materials: Matchbox cars, cardboard, tape, paperback books

Directions: Help children create two different ramps with the provided materials. Have them create ramps with varying inclines. Roll each car at the same time and let the child see which car rolls the fastest.

Extra Engagement: You can extend this activity by providing varied materials, such as PVC piping, plastic cups that are cut in half, and other round objects.

marshmallow and pretzel shapes

Math – Marshmallow and pretzel shapes. Children love craft projects and this activity is appropriate for most children. They can get very creative at discovering how many shapes they can make by simply hooking things together.

Objective: How many shapes can be created with the provided materials?

Materials: Pretzel sticks (or toothpicks), small marshmallows

Directions: Show the child how to connect the pretzel and marshmallows to create shapes, using the marshmallow as the meeting point of two pretzels. Have the children count the sides and points to categorize the shapes (square, triangle, etc.)

Extra Engagement: When a child masters simple shapes, extend the concept by creating 3D shapes.

These activities are just a starting point! Conducting these 4 basic activities will lead to many more questions from curious minds. While children are investigating, ask them questions about their interests. Use these interests to lead the child into the next activities. If an activity is too difficult for a child, ask yourself what the child doesn’t know that is keeping them from participating in the activity. Provide the child the knowledge that they are missing and let them continue investigating. Remember that STEM is everywhere! If a child has a question about the world we live in, there is likely a STEM activity you can do to investigate it.

To learn more, a STEM course is available with enrollment in the Intermediate Childcare program.

About the Author: Chelsea Herndon has a Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education and Elementary Education and an Educational Specialist in Elementary Education both from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She is a certified teacher in grades pre-school through 6th grade. She was previously an elementary teacher in Alabama and Washington, DC and is currently a doctoral student at Auburn University.

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