When we study wind and flight, we have lots of hands-on experiences for the children. (See all the Wind and Flight activities.)
Experiment: What can wind move?
We want them to notice that some things blow around in the wind and others don’t, so we put out electric fans, give them fans to wave, balloon pumps or bellows to blow air with, or straws to blow through and then challenge them to explore materials around the classroom or around their home. Can you move it with air / wind? (Make sure you tell them to put things back where they were before they blew them.)
Help them notice the qualities of what blows around and what doesn’t move. Help them notice that weight matters, but shape matters too. (If you lay a block on its side so it’s low to the ground, it’s hard to move it with air, but if it’s balanced on one end, it’s easy to knock it over. Paper may be easier to move when it’s folded into certain shapes than when it’s wadded into a ball.)
Experiment: What can float on the wind?
Try the Bobby Dropper experiment. (I learned it on Mystery Science.) Take paper from the recycling bin. Slide a bobby pin (or a paper clip) onto a flat piece of paper. Slide another bobby pin (or paper clip) onto another piece of paper then crumple the paper into a ball around the pin. Climb up high and drop both pieces of paper. Do they fall at the same speed? Is there anything different about how they fall? Then ask them to think of other things that float on the wind (leaves, snowflakes, feathers, maple seeds, dandelion seeds, plastic bags, frisbees, glider planes). Think of their shapes. How can you change the shape of a piece of paper so it is better at floating on the wind? Cut or fold the paper, test it against the crumpled ball. Tweak and repeat as many times as desired.
Print this template.
Cut along the solid lines, and fold along the solid lines to make a “helicopter” shape. This illustration is from NASA and you can find more instructions at that link. Climb back up to your high place, and drop the helicopter – it will twirl to the ground.
TLDR: Take a 4 or 5 inch strip of cardstock and a 6 to 8 inch strip of cardstock that are about 3/4 inch wide. Curl them into rings. Tape them to both ends of a straw. Throw.
More details if you feel like being precise.
Cut a 4×6 index cards into strips that are 3/4 x 6 inches. Tape two pieces together to make a long strip. (Tip: If you overlap them by a half inch or so, that will help it curl more nicely than if they barely overlap.) 3. Make rings: Take the single strip, curl it into a ring and tape it. Then take the double-length strip. Curl and tape it. You now have a small and a big ring. Tape the straw to the inside of the circles. Small circle at one end, large at the other. Hold the glider in the middle with the rings up. Throw it like a paper airplane.
Make a Kite
Supplies needed: a piece of paper, a bamboo skewer, ribbons for streamers (we use surveyor’s tape), plus scissors, tape and a hole punch
Fold paper in half horizontally. (Fold the top to the bottom.) Fig 1.
Fold back the top layer from point A on the top (about one inch from the top left edge) and point B on the bottom (about one inch from the folded edge). Turn the paper over and make the same fold on the other side. Fig 2 and 3.
Tape a skewer from point C to D. Punch a hole at the bottom for streamers.
On other side, fold back and tape down spine fold, then punch a hole into the spine about one inch down from the bamboo skewer. (It helps to reinforce this hole with tape… first put the tape on where the hole will be, THEN punch it. That makes it less likely the hole will tear from the strain of the kite string.) Tie on a kite string.
Make a Sailboat
Find a few corks. Rubber band them together. Find something to be a mast. Find something to be a sail. Then set the boat in water (in the bathtub, sink or plastic bin), and use a straw to blow wind a the sails and push the boat across the water. (Detailed tutorial here.)
NASA has a really great lesson plan on Aeronautics for Pre-K. It includes book recommendations, a lesson where children make observations about things from nature that glide (from flying squirrels to maple leaves) vs. things that fly (birds, bats, planes), and crafts like paper helicopters and gliders. It ties in sink and float experiments to aeronautics and lift, making a “hot air balloon”, egg drop challenge and much more. I could develop a 4 week long unit with this resource!