Science Lessons for Children on Clouds
When to Teach the Science Behind Clouds
If you've already taught your child (or children) the states of mater and the water cycle, clouds are a fun and logical next step (covering atmosphere can be helpful too). Learning about clouds will allow you to reinforce what they learned in previous lessons as well as providing an enjoyable new avenue for learning. Also most children are already predisposed to cloud watching so they should have fun during the lesson with little effort from you.
Where to Begin with Instruction
Clouds by Anne Rockwell is a great book with which to begin. It provides a basic description of the composition of clouds, types of clouds (with visual and text descriptions) and the types of weather to expect from the different clouds.
The reason I am recommending this book over other children's books on clouds is that it includes every type of cloud while still approaching the subject at a child's level. Most children's books only mention a few cloud types without even hinting that there are more.
That being said do work through the various cloud types slowly with your children. There are ten after all.
Creating a Cloud Chart
Provide two 12"x18" pieces of blue construction paper per student, plenty of cotton balls, labels with cloud names, labels with weather types, graphic representation of weather types and glue. (You might wish to pass out the labels one cloud type at a time to avoid confusion.)
Have the students position the papers with the short end vertical. Then divide each paper into five rows (or six if you'd like to include a heading).
Have the students glue a cloud label to the bottom left section of a row. Use the cotton balls to form the cloud above the label.
Glue the corresponding weather label to the bottom right section of that same row. Glue the weather graphic above the label. (For example we used closed umbrellas for might rain in the next 12 to 24 hours.)
Continue until all cloud types have been covered.
Lessons about Clouds
We began with the three highest cloud types: cirrus clouds, cirrostratus clouds and cirrocumulus clouds. To open the lesson we read the first 13 pages of the book Clouds. Then you can reinforce how each cloud loos either by beginning your cloud chart (described to the right) or allow your child to create "clouds" using shaving cream on a cookie sheet. As they are creating reiterate the names of each cloud and the type of weather associated with it. Having them repeat it back and/or creating a song about the clouds will help cement the information in their minds.
On your next science day review pages 1 through 13 and add pages 14 through 17. This will add the altostratus and altocumulus clouds to their repertory. If you have begun your cloud chart add the alto clouds to your chart. Your child can again practice making shaving cream clouds or you could use watercolors. This will allow you to print cloud forms if the child is having trouble with the shapes.
On the third day introduce the last five cloud types. Again begin by review pages the earlier pages of Clouds. Then read to the end of the book. If you have been working on your cloud chart then add the final clouds before reviewing all of the clouds. If you have not yet begun your cloud chart do it now as a review. Allow extra time and cotton balls to practice the new cloud shapes.
On day four do a little cloud watching--keeping your cloud chart handy. Review all the information on the chart even if you don't see all the cloud types. End the lesson by creating your own cloud. (See experiment below to the left.)
The last official day of the cloud unit can be spent on storm clouds. The book Flash, Crash, Rumble and Roll by Fanklyn M. Branley does a good job introducing safety rules during a lightening storm. Begin with a review of the clouds focusing on storm clouds (cumulonimbus). Then read the book and discuss the safety rules. Let the children act out the rules. It will help them remember. You can end the lesson by creating your own miniature lightening storm. (See experiment below to the right.)
Did you already know the names of the clouds?
The unit can easily be reviewed any time you discuss the weather. Moreover, if your student keeps a weather journal she can begin adding the specific names of the clouds she sees. As your children spot dogs and ducks in the clouds remind them of the scientific names they've learned.
Stratocumulus Clouds Mixing with Cumulus
Experiment: Miniature Lightening Storm
When we tried this experiment we couldn't get it dark enough to see the "lightening" but we did hear the crackle of the "thunder". Hopefully you will have better luck.
- Aluminum Foil
- Choose a dark room.
- Fold aluminum foil into a long strip.
- Rub balloon on head (yours or your student's)
- Move aluminum strip toward balloon which watching for sparks and listening for crackles.
Experiment: Creating a Cloud
There is a more complicated method mentioned in the back of the cloud book. However, we chose to use the following version.
- Large glass jar with lid
- Warm water
- Warm jar in warm water. (I rushed this step once and all my water vapor condensed on the side of the jar instead of forming a cloud.)
- Add about an inch of warm water to the bottom of the jar.
- Place the lid inverted on the top of the jar.
- Place ice of the lid.
- Sprinkle with salt.
- Watch cloud form.
Additional Resources on Clouds
- Pictures of Cloud Formations -- National Geographic Kids
Another good photo gallery of cloud types.
- Clouds for Kids | MY NASA DATA
Shows the steps for turning your cloud watching into a science fair project.
- Web Weather for Kids!
Covers cloud types and how they form. Also includes matching and concentration games for review of cloud knowledge.
- Weather Wiz Kids weather information for kids
Answers a number of cloud questions that might come up during the unit. It also provides a pictorial review of the cloud types, additional lesson plans, experiments and science fair ideas.
- Clouds - DAN'S WILD WILD WEATHER PAGE
Good for reviewing cloud types. Includes pictures as well as additional weather information.