June is the month of the year when we all look forward to enjoying some warm weather, lighter evenings, and a long-awaited summer holiday. It is also the month of the Summer Solstice – the longest day of the year which officially marks the start of summer.
A little bit of astronomy
Our earth revolves around the sun once every 365.25 days, which we know as a year. However, as well as orbiting the sun, the earth also spins on its own axis (the imaginary line running from the North to the South Pole), taking 24 hours to complete a full rotation and creating hours of daylight and darkness, which we call day and night. But that doesn’t explain why we get seasons (spring, summer, autumn, and winter), or why we have some days that have more daylight (in summer) and some days that have less daylight (in winter).
This happens because the earth is not in an upright position relative to the sun, but is tilted at an angle of 23.5 degrees from the vertical. As the earth revolves around the sun, the tilt of the axis remains the same. So, when it is summer in the northern hemisphere, the northern hemisphere is tilted towards the sun, whilst the southern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun, thereby experiencing winter. When the earth gets to the opposite side of the sun in its orbit, the situation is reversed, and it is winter in the northern hemisphere and summer in the southern hemisphere. That’s why the Australians can enjoy their Christmas lunch on the beach, while we build snowmen and snuggle up with a hot cocoa! The earth’s tilt also explains why we have seasons and why the amount of daylight we get varies throughout the year. There’s a good video for children which explains the movement of the earth and why we have seasons here.
So, what is the Summer Solstice?
The Summer Solstice marks the point in the year where the earth reaches its closest inclination to the sun (which is not the same as its closest distance from the sun, however). In the northern hemisphere, this will be on Monday, June 21, 2021. This will be the Winter Solstice in the southern hemisphere. It is also the day that the UK receives the most hours of daylight during the year, but the exact amount of daylight we get varies according to location. The North Pole has constant daylight at this time of year as it is angled towards the sun, whilst the South Pole experiences continual darkness. Daylight at the equator is constant throughout the year with equal amounts of daylight and darkness.
At Stonehenge in Salisbury, thought by some to be an ancient astronomical calendar, Midsummer’s Day will see the first rays of sun at 04:52 and say goodbye to them at 21:26 giving almost 17 hours of daylight. Although, as we well know in the UK, daylight hours are not the same as sunshine hours, as our weather, clouds, and rain can get in the way of that, but even if this happens, the sun is still out there….somewhere!
How to celebrate Summer Solstice in your setting
Summer Solstice is the perfect time to celebrate everything warm and sunny with your children, so here are 17 different ideas to help your little ones celebrate – one for each hour (or part hour) of daylight on Midsummer’s Day!
- Make a sun and earth mobile using pom-poms or simple circles of coloured card
- Plant some seeds – cosmos, dianthus and nasturtiums are easy to grow, and should do well if planted at this time of year
- Make some sunshine headdresses or masks or use some face paint to create representations of the sun and the earth – then create a dance or act out the earth moving around the sun and spinning on its axis
- Listen to some classical music – Vivaldi’s “Summer” from his “Four Seasons” is calming and evokes long summer days
- Celebrate with a Midsummer fete or festival – make sure you serve the quintessential British summer treat of strawberries and cream
- Press some summer flowers and make them into a solstice greeting card
- Create some sunrise or sunset pictures – you can use different shades of paper cut out in increasing sized semi-circles to create the sunrise/sunset
- Watch the sunrise live at Stonehenge via a live link on Facebook here (if you are up early enough) or watch it in your setting later on YouTube (so you can have some extra time in bed!)
- Make some fairy peg dolls and have the children create a dance on Midsummer’s Day – in folklore, Midsummer is traditionally a day when magic is strongest, and fairies and pixies can get up to mischief!
- Make a simple sundial by using a long stick and some coloured or painted stones. Push the stick into the ground outside in the full sun and use the stones to mark where the shadow falls each hour. You can find some instructions here
- Make some summer-inspired treats such as lemon fairy cakes, butterfly cakes or decorate some pancakes with sunny faces using bananas, strawberries, grapes, and raisins
- Learn some English country dances based on the idea of circles and rotation
- Tell a simplified version of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in storytime or read some educational books based on summer such as “What can you see in summer?” by Sian Smith, or “A Perfect Day” by Lane Smith
- Make a daisy or dandelion chain, or a flower headdress to mark the occasion
- Meditate with your children, giving thanks for the day, and incorporate some simple yoga poses to strengthen balance and body awareness
- Sing some songs that celebrate summer – a YouTube search using “summer songs for kids” brings up many favourite songs as well as some new ones you might like to try
- And finally, sit around a small bonfire (following all safety precautions, of course) and toast some marshmallows – the perfect end to a perfect summer’s day!
And if all that fails, and it does rain…. make a colourful fake fire inside and eat the marshmallows anyway!