How to Make a Simple Sun Dial

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Teaching the concept of time to little ones is tricky! But my 5-year-old has already started to grasp the concept, so I just went with it. We’ve been slowly teaching her about the clock and the hour hands and minute hands. She’s a planner, and so she’s constantly asking when things will happen, so being able to show her that we will do such-and-such when the minute hand reaches the 12, for example, has been a big help. But I decided it might be fun to try to show her how to measure time by making a simple sundial.

sundial cover

Now we didn’t get fancy with our sundial by any means. If you have older kids, then I suggest you totally go for it and calculate a much more accurate (and complex) sundial. But for my purposes, I was really trying to simply show how we can measure the hours of the day by the sun crossing the sky – and then make the connection to the Earth rotating on its axis each day and traveling around the sun in one year, etc. Concept, not accuracy, was my goal!

sundial 1
First, we went out to the driveway with sidewalk chalk. I drew a crude depiction of the sun and the Earth. I then explained to the girls that the Earth spins around in a circle and that’s one day. I had them stand on the drawing of the Earth and spin one time. Then I told them as it spins, the Earth travels around the sun. That takes 365 days, and that is what we call one year. So then I had them spin and try to walk around the path I had drawn around the sun. This was hilarious to watch, and they had a lot of fun doing it. 🙂

sundial 2
Then I told them that we can mark the hours of the day by the sun moving in the sky (and reminded them that it only looks like the sun is moving even though it’s actually the Earth that is moving). I grabbed the baby’s rainbow stacker and removed all the colored rings. It was perfect! (If you don’t have one, putting a stick in some playdough will work just as well.) We set it on the driveway in the morning, and we drew a “circle” around it and marked where the shadow fell with a rock from the yard. Then approximately every hour, we came out and marked where the shadow had moved.

sundial 3
By the end of the day, we had a simple sundial! The girls loved this. They were very excited to go outside and mark the shadow and see how far it had moved since the last time. It was a fun, simple activity, and I think it really helped them grasp the concept of time a little bit better.

We also went to the library and got a few books about time and seasons.  Here are some that we liked:


P. Bear’s New Year’s Party is about a polar bear who has an elegant New Year’s party with all of his animal friends. As each party animal arrives, children learn to count and tell time.


Chicken Soup with Rice introduces months and seasons to children.


Another beautifully illustrated book, Around the Year introduces children to the seasons and celebrations offered by each one.


So, will you go make a simple sundial today?? If you do take a picture and share it with us on Instagram!

lindsey This is a guest post by Lindsey–a modern homesteader and homeschooling Mama of two. Together with her family she lives in North Florida on 1/3 of an acre where they garden, raise chickens and turkeys, do lots of DIY, make a ton from scratch – and include natural learning experiences along the way.

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