completed sundial

Following the movement of a shadow during the day is a way to track time. Try it yourself by making a sundial.

Let's Make a Sundial

A very long time ago (long before there were digital clocks and mobile phones), people used a sundial to tell time. A sundial may consist of a round plate with a vertical stick, called a gnomon, that casts a shadow on the dial. On the plate of the sundial are numbers for each hour of the day. The gnomon's shadow points to the time.

Materials

  • Construction paper (pale color works best) or a 9- to 12-inch paper plate
  • Piece of stiff cardboard (should be a little larger than your piece of paper)
  • Large bowl (for tracing)
  • Pencil or crayon (for tracing)
  • Scissors
  • Pencil or other straight stick (the gnomon)
  • Mounting putty or soft clay
  • Four small stones or clear tape (for securing your sundial when it’s outside)
  • Marker (dark color works best)
  • Compass (optional)
  • Ruler (optional)

Directions

  1. Gather your supplies. supplies needed to make a sundial
  2. Turn your bowl upside down on your piece of paper and trace a circle. Cut out the circle. What the circle of the sundial should look like.
  3. Poke a small hole in the center of the circle. (An estimate is fine, or you can use a ruler to find the center.) The hole should be no wider than the pencil or stick you’ll use for the gnomon. How the guides should be placed on the sundial.
  4. Place a small ball of mounting putty or class in the center of the piece of cardboard, and push the eraser-side of the pencil (gnomon) into the putty. Test to make sure the pencil stays upright.
  5. Once your pencil is secure, slide the paper all the way down to the cardboard and press firmly to flatten the putty/clay. If there are marks on one side of the paper, keep the blank side up. Where the pencil should be placed in the center of the sundial.
  6. Find a flat spot outside that will stay sunny for all or most of the day and place your sundial on the ground or outdoor table. Choose a spot that won’t be disturbed by foot traffic, including the muddy paws of your favorite four-legged friend. (Ahem, Hal).
  7. Secure the base of your sundial so it won’t move using either small stones or clear tape. It’s important your sundial stays in the same place while you are making it.

This craft comes to you from the creators of Nature Cat.

Iowa PBS STEAM Activities and Crafts provided by PBS KIDS Parents.