Kid Questions – Where does the sun hide at night?

by Deb on January 30, 2010

This is a great question because it’s so easy to demonstrate, all you need is a ball and a light, preferably a lamp or torch.

Firstly it helps if they have an idea that the earth is a sphere.  If they’ve travelled a bit it’s great, you can show them on the ball where they’ve been.  We’ve just got back from holidays, so I chose one point on the ball for home and we discussed flying around the other side to England.

  1. Make sure there is a point on the ball they can identify, either something already there or draw a spot.  Tell them that the earth is like a ball, and they are standing on the spot.  If they know something about maps, countries or cities you can draw them on as well to help them visualise it.
  2. Hold it in front of the light so they can see the clear line between the light and dark sides.  You may need to turn off the room lights or shut the curtains.  Have the dot that’s them in the light section.
  3. Tell them it’s day for them, then slowly turn the ball like the earth does.  Have them follow the dot and point out when it’s sunset, then night then sunrise and day again.  We went through this several time, with big girl excitedly yelling “Day!” and “Night!”
  4. For older kids, you could even introduce the year and seasons if you want!

Big girl is 4 and asked the question.  Do I think she’s got it?  No, but it’s an introduction.  One of the biggest things science teachers do in school is deconstruction.  All people have developed ideas about how the world works just through living.  The way our brains work, we don’t replace these ideas until they become too uncomfortable, even if it means we have contradictions.

Example:  I’ve taught teenagers who ‘know’ that the earth goes around the sun.  But then on a test they’ll pick an answer like “the sun and moon are on opposite sides of the earth,” which shows they haven’t internalised it.

This is a fairly trivial example, but having a false world view can stop you asking the right questions – we wouldn’t have reached the moon if we didn’t realise it was big enough to visit.

Science teachers spend a lot of time trying to identify false ideas and correct them.  There are two things needed to deal with false ideas:

  • Make them explicit, most of us don’t realise we have them until they’re challenged in an unexpected way.
  • Repeat the real ideas often in as many different ways as you can.

The earlier you do it the better, because you might even stop the false ideas forming in the first place.  So a toddler is not going to understand day and night from one time of playing with a ball.  But it is one little thing that can help add up to an accurate world view.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

PlanningQueen January 30, 2010 at 8:50 pm

Really enjoyed this explanation and loved the practical example.


Kristine January 31, 2010 at 9:59 am

I particularly enjoyed the second half of this article about dealing with misconceptions. How do we make these misconceptions explicit?


Deb February 4, 2010 at 5:14 pm

It’s hard, because they can be hidden. The simplest way is to ask people to teach someone else, because that really shows what they understand and what they’re just remembering. In the example about the moon the kids were asked what they would tell an alien who landed outside their bedroom one night.


Annie June 27, 2010 at 6:41 am

Yeah and I think that’s why its really important to give real answers to their questions (which obviously is what you do). They may not understand fully – but most concepts take time for anyone to fully grasp, even as adults, so by always answering their questions they start to build an understanding so they can fully grasp it when they are ready. And yeah, asking for their own explanations can be really helpful cos then you can see which bits you need to work on, do more activities/demonstrations etc.


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