Can you believe that we’re halfway through December already? And winter will officially begin on December 21st, even though for some of us, it’s been around for a while already. Does your family celebrate the first day of winter, or the winter solstice? It’s a great day to help your children learn about the seasons and their changes. Since kids love any reason to celebrate, let’s think about a few fun activities to celebrate the winter solstice.
What is the winter solstice?
On our calendars, it’s often marked as the first day of winter, but there is actually science behind the selection of this day. In fact, there are two solstices each year, one marking the beginning of summer and this one marking the beginning of winter. Scientifically, a solstice is the moment when the Earth’s poles are at their maximum tilt either toward or away from the sun. At the beginning of summer, the North Pole of the Earth is at its furthest tilt toward the sun. And so, at the beginning of winter, the North Pole of the Earth is at its furthest tilt away from the sun.
And this tilt away from the sun means that in the Northern Hemisphere, we’ll have the shortest amount of daylight that we’ll have all year. We call it the shortest day of the year, even though we really mean the shortest amount of daylight.
Show your kids how the solstice works
To help your kids understand the concept of a solstice, you can use any kind of ball and a flashlight. The flashlight is the sun and its rays shining on the Earth. The ball is the Earth, and you’ll want a way to identify the North and South Poles. Have someone hold the flashlight in one place, ready to turn in a circle as the Earth orbits it. Then hold the ball in the light coming from the flashlight. Tilt the ball so that the North Pole is tilted toward the sun, and explain how all that light and heat help us have a warm summer. Then, keep the ball tilted exactly the same way as you walk around the “sun”, which should turn around to keep the Earth in its rays.
If you keep the ball in the same position (don’t rotate the ball as you walk around the light), then the North Pole will be tilted away from the sun when you get to the other side. Show your child how it’s dark in the Northern Hemisphere now, which is why we have less daylight and colder weather. Then you can complete your orbit around the sun, ending at the summer solstice again. If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, you can follow the same movements and adjust your explanation for the opposite seasons.
Add a few fun activities to celebrate the winter solstice
Do you already have some fun winter activities you love to do together? This first day of winter would be a great time to do your favorite winter activity.
If you live where it’s snowy, you could go sledding on the first day of winter. Or you could build a snowman to celebrate the solstice.
Even if you live in a warmer climate, you could come up with some winter activities. What about putting out bird feeders, or even making some special bird feeders? There are the classic peanut butter pine cones or homemade seed decorations. While you fill feeders or craft them, you can explain how the birds have less to eat in the winter, so it’s good for us to help them out.
Or you could make a big deal of the time that it gets dark. Turn on lamps or light candles to highlight and enjoy the dark for a while. Cuddle up and read a story about winter or the winter solstice. You still have time to look for some good winter picture books at the library!
There are also some solstice traditions you could adopt, like lighting lanterns or crafting some winter solstice lanterns. Or you could decorate a tree outdoors. There’s also the tradition of mulled cider or wassail. For little ones, you could just warm up some cider or apple juice.
So as we approach this first day of winter, think of some fun activities to celebrate winter solstice with your kids.
My Signing Time Resources
Of course, it’s a perfect time to learn the sign for winter.
To help your child learn about winter or the seasons, check out some of our My Signing Time shows.
Rachel & the TreeSchoolers “Extraordinary Earth” teaches about the hemispheres and the seasons.
In Signing Time Classic Collection “My Favorite Season” we learn about the seasons while practicing signs and singing fun songs.
And then there’s Rachel & Me “Going Outside – Winter” where Rachel talks about some fun winter activities.
How will you celebrate the beginning of winter?