The following guide details dozens of fun ideas that teach kids about solar power, including sample projects to do at home and camps offering fun activities that involve solar energy, as well as educational resources for parents and teachers and kid-friendly websites that enlighten kids for a solar-powered future.
Solar Kits & Projects for Kids
The best kind of learning is fun, too. Solar-powered toys and kits not only are environmentally friendly and entertaining, but they also teach kids about how solar power works to make them move and light up. Many can even be assembled by kids. With toys available to suit a wide range of ages and abilities, there’s no shortage of ways to spark kids’ lifelong interest in solar energy and environmental responsibility.
This kit helps kids learn how solar cells work and gain an understanding of basic electricity. It includes nine labs with clear step-by-step instructions, showing kids how to make circuits that can be used in everyday life.
Kids can build 22 different solar-powered models with this supersized science lab, including an amphibious boat, an elevator and a twin-propeller airplane. The kit includes two solar panels that easily can be swapped for batteries for indoor play, plus step-by-step instructions for each model.
Kids can create 14 different solar-powered robot models using only this kit. Half of the models are “entry-level” designs, while the others are more advanced models that challenge kids’ skills. The kit also includes parts that allow robots to move on land or water.
This simple solar toy packs a lot of fun into a tiny package, while also teaching kids how solar cells work. When exposed to the sun, the grasshopper shakes, wiggles and hops, then it stops moving when its solar panel is covered.
With this kit, kids can build a robot that transforms into Insecta, T-Rex and Drill Vehicle. Watch them come to life when kids take them outside to play. Larger parts make the models suitable for smaller children, too.
This toy is a good option for kids who aren’t big on building but still enjoy some solar-powered fun. The car and driver plug into the house, which has a rooftop solar panel. Unplug it from the house and watch it race around, inside and out.
Solar Summer Camps
Whether it’s only for a few afternoons or a full week or more away from home, summer camp is where kids make memories, develop interpersonal skills and, of course, have fun. Summer camps also can provide valuable opportunities for kids to learn about solar energy and its impact without feeling like a boring day in science class.
Solar summer camps are available to young people of all ages, from toddlers to soon-to-be high school graduates, and they can take a variety of forms. Low-cost local day camps, weeklong internship opportunities at universities and camps that lie somewhere in between provide campers opportunities to learn about solar energy, get creative and build solar-powered devices like panels, robots and food cookers. Below is a sampling of camps that have put solar energy in the spotlight.
Types of Solar Camps
Camps range from one-time labors of love taught at local community centers, to university-sponsored annual events where graduate students teach week-long courses. Some camps appear once on the web or are publicized locally, and others have involved websites.
The typical entry age is fourth grade, but that varies by program. Sixth grade seems to be a frequent age for solar programs. At that age, most kids can be taught to solder wire safely, and have the cognitive ability to understand the basics of DC electrical circuits.
Cost of Solar Camps
Range from $25 to $1,500 depending on the length of the program, and if overnight stays and food are included in the program.
Where to Find Solar Camps
Start with your local major university and learn if it offers summer outreach programs for STEM students. Then check with your public school district to learn if it offers solar or STEM programs. Community centers offer STEM summer programs, too.
The listing below is meant to show the wide range of solar camps for kids that have been offered around the country. Check with your local community centers and universities to learn about the camps in your area.
This six-day camp is an intensive, work-based internship program for students who are interested in the solar energy industry. It includes hands-on activities, field visits and lectures from solar industry professionals.
Go Solar! Kids offers a variety of day camps and classes where kids can build solar-powered toys and gadgets. Camps are offered at a variety of times, prices and locations throughout Minnesota, giving parents and campers many options for summer.
Elementary school students
Making Electricity With Solar Power Made Simple
The sun produces heat and light, so how do we turn energy from the sun into electricity that people can use? The infographic below provides a brief explanation of how the sun, solar panels, and batteries or other devices work together to convert the sun’s energy into electricity. For a more detailed explanation, see the LetsGoSolar page How Solar Panels Work.
How Solar Panels Work
The sun sends energy in the form of photons. These particles of sunlight bump into solar panels.
When photons reach a solar panel, the panel converts them into electrons that flow through the panel and become electricity.
Solar panels are often called photovoltaic (PV) panels because they use the process of turning photons into electricity, or voltage.
Some devices can use the power that comes straight from a solar panel as long as the panel gets enough light. Others use rechargeable batteries to store the solar electricity and discharge it when needed.
Solar Projects for Teens
Building solar-powered toys isn’t ideal for everyone, especially older kids and teenagers who are more drawn to practical projects than mechanical dinosaurs and cars. That doesn’t mean that teens have to miss out on the fun. There are tons of solar project tutorials available to teens, whether they’re fascinated by science and engineering or just want to try an eco-friendly DIY project. Solar ovens and simple solar cellphone chargers are two popular projects that teenagers can do inexpensively on their own.
Solar Ovens for Teens
Solar ovens really work for cooking food on sunny days. Plus, you can make a solar oven in an afternoon with materials found around the house or easily obtained from the grocery store. Instructions vary by project, but most call for a box, aluminum foil, clear plastic wrap, a box cutter, and tape. Because a wide range of tutorials is available, teens who don’t have the exact materials for one set of instructions can easily find other sets to match what they have on hand. Don’t have a packing box with flaps, but there’s a pizza box waiting to go into the recycling bin? Follow a pizza box solar oven tutorial.
Solar Phone Charger for Teens
A solar-curious teen looking for something a bit more advanced might be interested in building a solar cellphone charger. Chargers can be made for around $20, and they’re great for camping trips, dorm rooms with limited outlets and general energy-saving goodness. Charging time will depend on the capacity of the solar panel used, and adding a power bank allows for charging even when the panel isn’t in direct sunlight. Though this project isn’t as fast and easy to build as a solar oven, teens will end up with a rewarding and practical product they made themselves.
NASA’s Climate Kids: Read, watch videos and make projects to learn about solar energy and other ways to protect the earth.
Energy Kids: Kids can play games, conduct experiments and learn about energy and its different sources on this site presented by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Energy Star Kids: Energy Star Kids is packed with information on renewable energy resources, environmental responsibility and how kids can help save energy.
Go SEEK!: Suitable for elementary, middle and high school students alike, Go SEEK! (an acronym for Solar Energy Eco Knowledge) breaks down complex solar energy principles into easy-to-understand terms and offers many fun and useful resources for kids to explore.
NeoK12: Games, lessons and short educational videos help kids learn about different aspects of solar energy.
Solar Kids!: Fun animations, videos, and activities guide kids through solar-power and electricity basics.