Preschoolers Awed by Power of Sun’s Rays

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How does one explain the powerful energy of the sun’s rays to five-year-old children? In a tangible and awe-inspiring exercise, Marc Allen, a STEM teacher at Walnut Park Montessori School did just that.

Allen, an engineer and an accredited Montessori teacher, developed STEM education for primary classes of boys and girls ages three to five at Walnut Park. Creating a curriculum in electricity, climate change, construction, and more, he recently engaged a group of the oldest children in a study about the power of the sun’s rays, an introductory lesson on climate change.

Laying out mats on Jackson Walnut Park Student Center’s gym floor, he placed one of different sized spherical shapes, from a large inflatable ball to a small bead, on each mat. A massive ball representing the relative size of the sun was placed a distance away. The children, who had learned the names of the planets, stood behind the sphere they thought best represented the size of Earth relative to the sun. The children’s surprise was palpable when he picked up the smallest bead that represented their planet.

Holding the tiny bead, children talked about the visible impact the sun’s rays has on earth. Allen then moved into the sun’s invisible impact, and children learned about sunburns and the importance of sunscreen. To show them how quickly the invisible rays of the sun affect the planet, he gave each child 10 white UV sensitive beads, one gold bead, and a short string.

The children strung the beads and with each other’s help or that of a teacher, tied the string to create a bracelet. They raced excitedly to the large JWP Student Center windows that face south and held the beads against the windows or laid them on a sunny patch on the floor.

“This is so cool!” shouted two boys as the white beads turned blue, orange, violet, and pink. Other children held their bracelets longer to the sun to see how dark the mixed colors would turn. These Newton preschoolers visibly grasped a lesson on the power of the sun’s invisible energy.