Wind and Flight

There is an updated version of this post at

This is the first post in the Inventors of Tomorrow series, which will feature science, engineering, and nature-related activities for preschool/early elementary age children. Today’s themes are Wind, Balloons, and Flight. These could be combined in one session, or split into two.


Question of the Day: What can the wind blow around?

Sorting activity: Put an assortment of objects on a table, with the questions – can the wind move it? Can you blow it around? For younger children, have two obvious sets of heavy things and light things so the sorting is easy. With older kids, put out a variety of things, and they’ll discover the answer that “it depends on how strong the wind is.” (source)

Exploration: Set up a fan and put scarves or streamers or other lightweight objects out so the children can see them blow in the wind, then let go and watch them flutter away. We used the wind tube (shown in the video at the top of this post) and the scarf cannon, but even just having a fan and scarves to blow around with it would be fun. Optional: put out objects that are too heavy for the air from the fan to lift so they can discover that.

If you have access to a set of bellows, that would be a great tool to play with!

Books to read: Wind by Bauer is a simple non-fiction book about wind. Feel the Wind by Dorros and I Face the Wind by Cobb also look like good options. Mouse’s First Spring, or one of the many story books out there about things getting swept away in the wind. Other ones I’d like to check out include Like a Windy Day and the Fantastic Flying Books.

Water table: Get or make little sailboats. Give children straws to see if they can blow the sailboat around with the “wind”.

Group art project: The blustery day collage. Teacher Cym painted a large picture of a tree with some swirls and spirals to indicate the wind blowing across it. The kids glued on dried leaves, feathers, other things that would swirl in the wind. [option: you could ask the children things like – “should we glue a brick on the picture? Or rocks? No? Why not?” and explore the idea of what blows in the wind and what does not.]

Building Project: Next year we’ll add the Duplo pinwheel to our activities.

Take-home art project ideas:

  • Paper birds that children can cut out (you can fly these in the wind tube).
  • Tissue paper butterflies. Wad up some foil to make the body, use pipe cleaner for antenna. Glue body to wings made of fabric or tissue paper.
  • coffee filter and clothes-pin butterflies.

Easy crafts: Teach how to accordion fold a fan out of paper. Cut a spiral of paper so it becomes a wind spinner. (we tested these in the wind tube too…)(

Kites: We built simple kites with paper and bamboo skewers. This is definitely an adult-assistance project for kids. We then tried flying them outside, but didn’t have enough wind that day. (Here are directions for lots of kites… kite


Question: How can you hold air? [One answer will be balloons, but we’ll also talk about all the containers that hold air inside them.)

Balloon Pump: A really simple and cheap activity that can keep kids entertained for hours: give them a balloon pump and a pile of balloons. (Note: Kids 4 and up can do this alone. The 2 and 3-year-olds needed help getting the balloon on and off the pump, but could pump by themselves.) They pump it up, then pull the balloon off, and let it go – it flies around the room as the air flows out. Hilarious! You can also talk about thrust if you want to and how the wind flowing out pushes the balloon forward. (This post does a great job of describing how to talk about the science of this with your child.)

Balloon Rocket Races: Make a track – thread a string through a straw. Tie the string from one side of the room to the other. Blow up a balloon, but don’t tie the end, just hold it carefully closed. Tape the balloon to the string, let go of the balloon, watch it fly (See pictures here). Another way to do this is to make a rocket out of an empty water bottle – mount the rocket on the straw. Then blow up the balloon and tape it to the bottom of the rocket.

Can air pressure hold up a cup: Watch the video. Basically, you put an uninflated balloon inside a plastic cup. Blow it up till it fills the cup – lift it up, it lifts the cup.

Balloon Face with Ears: Child can draw a face on an uninflated balloon. Then you blow up the balloon slightly. Have them hold two plastic cups – one on each side of the balloon – they need to apply pressure. Then you blow up the balloon – the air pressure should hold cups there. Apparently this is easier if you wet the cups first.

Helium Balloon vs. Balloon I blow up. Compare a helium balloon with a balloon your child has blown up. How are they the same? How are they different? Why?

How many balloons does it take to lift… Get some helium balloons. Find a basket or bag to tie on – try filling the bag with a variety of items (dominoes? coins? plastic dinosaurs?) How many objects can one balloon lift? If you add a second balloon, how many can you lift? You can also choose a heavy object and guess how many balloons you’ll need to lift it (Source). Just for fun, you could show a clip from the movie Up, with the house being carried away by balloons.

DIY Hot Air Balloon. We built a hot air balloon shape from tissue paper and blew a hair dryer into it to create the hot air to make it rise. It was moderately successful, but the balloon kept leaking air. You might have better luck with paper lanterns, using a hair dryer instead of candle/fuel burner. Or you can use a plastic trash bag or dry cleaner’s bag.

Hovercraft: Build a hovercraft with a balloon and CD. (I haven’t tried this one yet.)

Books to Read: Curious George and the Hot Air Balloon.


Paper Airplanes! You can put out books with ideas of how to fold them, or create a template where all they need to do is fold along the lines.

Gliders. We built gliders with straws, tape, and wings made from recycled cardboard. Kids were encouraged to explore what size and shape of wings yielded the longest flight.

Recommended Books to Read:

      • Violet the Pilot is a fabulous book about a girl who tinkers in the family junkyard and makes fabulous flying machines and flies to the rescue. It’s exactly the kind of book I like to read in our Family Inventors class to inspire kids to be creative inventors.
      • I am Amelia Earhart is a nice biography of a girl/woman who loved to fly. Starts with a child building a cart to fly, then seeing an air show, then learning to fly. Writing style and comics style illustrations appeal to 4 – 7 year olds.
      • The Wondrous Whirligig: The Wright Brothers’ First Flying Machine
        by Glass. A story of Wilbur and Orville Wright, told in a way that kids in grade 1 – 3 could engage in / relate to. It tells of them as children and a failed whirligig flying machine, It’s based loosely on stories of their childhood. Too long for our class of 3 – 7 year olds, but my 5 year old son enjoyed having it read to him.
      • Humphrey, Albert, and the Flying Machine  by Lasky &Manders. The story begins at Princess Briar Rose’s party, just before she and all her court fall asleep (i.e. become the story of Sleeping Beauty). Two brothers work with Daniel Bernoulli (an eccentric inventor based VERY loosely on a real inventor from the 1700’s) to invent a flying machine to come to the rescue. Goofy and fun for ages 5 – 8. A little long for a circle time read-aloud.
      • The Boy and the Airplane. A wordless book with nice soft illustrations. Tells the story of a boy who was given a toy plane. He plays with it a lot, then it ends up on a roof. We see time pass as he plants a tree and waits for it to get tall enough to reach the roof… he’s an old man by then. He climbs the tree, gets the plane, plays for a bit, then gives it away to a little girl.
      • Amazing Airplanes by Mitton and Parker. For 3 – 6 year olds.

The book I would most strongly recommend is Rosie Revere, Engineer. Read more about it in my Best Kids Books about Inventors post.

Have fun experimenting!


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