Creating your own sundial can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. Follow along with this fun project for kids that will teach you how to create your own using simple materials.
This project is inspired by a story from the Martin and Sylvia's Nature School Collection called "Song of the Hermit Thrush: Part One".
In the story, the children’s Goose-eye Wilderness school is ending as Summer Vacation begins. The last day of camp, school, or any event that brings people together is such a special one. In the beginning of the story, our main character Martin and the other children are concerned about not having enough time to spend with their friends. That inspired us to create a sundial.
How Does a Sundial Work?
A sundial is a way to keep track of the time using the sun. It works by casting a shadow as the sun moves across the sky, due to the Earth’s rotation on its axis. The shadow will rotate around the center point (called the gnomon), which allows you to tell the time!
Sundials have been around for thousands of years! Around 1500 BC, the ancient Egyptians began to use them regularly. This was the primary tool that our ancestors used for time-telling in their communities. They can still be found all over the world today.
There are many different types of sundials, and some can be very elaborate and complex. Here we will make the most common type, which is often found in gardens or backyards. It is called a horizontal sundial.
For this tutorial, we used some stones and a wooden dowel. You could also find a straight stick or cut a triangle out of cardboard to be the gnomon.
What You Will Need:
- Wooden dowel or stick
- Stones or dice (Anything that can be a place marker. If you want to use stones like I did, simply use a white sharpie or acrylic paint to paint numbers on the stones.)
How to Make a Sundial
Choose a sunny day to begin and start at noon. First, find a well-lit spot in your yard. Next, plant the dowel or stick standing straight up and down. Place a stone at the end of the shadow cast by the stick. You can have your little ones paint or decorate the stone if they’d like, or mark the number 12 on it. Repeat this step every hour until the sun sets. You'll find that the shadow will have moved each time.
At this point, you will only have completed half of the sundial. Return the next morning to mark each hour from sun up to noon.
Now you or your children can check the time of day whenever you are outside.
The morning hours will be on the lefthand side, while the afternoon hours will be on the right.
To make it easier for smaller children to connect the movement of the sun to the passage of time, I have placed the numbered stones in order like a clock.
If you have older kids, they might be interested in creating a more scientific sundial – in which case you'd want to cut out a gnomon (or triangle) and then start from 6am and work forward throughout the whole day. To make a gnomon, cut out a 6in x 6in square of cardboard. Make a diagonal line from one corner to the opposite corner. Cut along the line and you have your triangle! You can glue this triangle on another square of cardboard to make it stable and mobile.
Questions to think about:
- How will the shadows change at different times of year? Will they get longer or shorter?
- Did the spot you chose at noon still have full sun at 3pm or 6pm? Does it have full sun in the morning?
- Will your sundial work when it's cloudy?
About the Author
KC is a full-time radical homemaker and mama to two spunky little girls. She writes about all kinds of radical goodness, from gardening and cooking with whole foods to crafting, sewing, homeschooling, and mama musings. Read more on her blog The Nettlesome Life.