Summer Solstice Illuminates Learning for Families
Time & place literally provides for experiential education opportunity on the longest day of the year!
Soon, celebrations will take place all over the northern hemisphere to mark the arrival of the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, bringing with it the shortest night of the year while positioning us here in Western MA as close to the sun as it will be for the rest of the year. The simplest way to mark the summer solstice is simply to enjoy the extra daylight while it lasts, but there are a variety of other community-based ways to celebrate how world cultures and ancient civilizations marked the longest day of the year, getting kids engaged and learning about the longest day of the year.
Science of the Summer Solstice
Before digging deep into learning about the many ways to celebrate the solstice, help your children discover this seasonal phenomenon. Of course, we can explain verbally that the earth is tilted, and that it rotates around the sun, and that these two things (and a few more) cause seasons and the solstices and all sorts of other stuff, but it’s much better (and more fun) to let kids see it for themselves. Luckily, it’s fairly simple to replicate the relationship between the earth and sun at home using a globe (or other round object) and a flashlight. Check out Community Resources for Science’s lesson plan for ways to learn about the earth’s tilt and seasons, or do some inquiry-based learning and allow children to experiment with replicating night and day on their earth-and-sun replica. There’s even a great episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy that helps to explain how this works – watch it together on a rainy day to solidify learning that took place during your experiments.
After learning about the scientific reasons for the solstice’s occurrence, sink your teeth into it’s place in cultural traditions from all around the world! Celebrated under the name of Midsummer or St. John’s Day, the summer solstice is an important event in countries all over the world. Even some countries in the southern hemisphere celebrate Midsummer in June, as the roots of their modern culture were deeply influenced by Europeans. Fire is an especially important element in all Midsummer celebrations, and traditions include carrying lanterns, lighting bonfires (floating ones, even!), and jumping over or walking on fire. Additionally, the celebration of Midsummer has connections to the harvest of healing plants like calendula and St. John’s wort – and as a result, Midsummer celebrates not only the health of the earth and the strength of the sun, but the health of humans and the strength of the body as well.
Here in western Massachusetts, families can take part in three different events that provide the opportunity to learn experientially about solstice-related cultural traditions – all of which will be held on the solstice itself, Sunday, June 21, 2015. The UMass Sunwheel in Amherst will hold two events on the solstice, honoring the coming and going of daylight. Early risers can attend the sunrise event (arrive at 5am) at the Sunwheel, and those who prefer to enjoy sunset can attend a similar event held at 7:30pm. Each event will include descriptions of the scientific reasons for the solstice, as well as stories about the creation of the UMass sunwheel and other sun-honoring landmarks around the world (including Stonehenge in the United Kingdom and Chichen Itza in Mexico). The events differ only in that the morning event will be much more ceremonial and reflective, and will include meditation, poetry, and song in addition to the educational elements. The Sunwheel is located on Rocky Hill Road, near McGuirk Stadium.
Another way to mark this special day is at the Becket Arts Center‘s Summer Solstice Community Celebration on Saturday, June 20, 2015 from 4-9pm. Families can enjoy an opening reception for a new art exhibit, children’s activities, a silent auction, food, and live music from Becket native, Bobby Sweet.
The third local solstice celebration takes place on the Ashfield Common on Sunday morning, June 21, 2015, at 9am. Families can participate in a free summer solstice celebration that includes song and dance. This is an opportunity for making memories, as participants will be invited to bring pets (or their pictures) and seeds and walk with them in between flaming bales of hay to bless them and hope for a good fall harvest!
To learn more about the summer solstice and other sun-cycle celebrations, try these titles:
- The Ancient Celtic Festivals: and How We Celebrate Them Today by Clare Walker Leslie
- The Longest Day: Celebrating the Summer Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer
- The Summer Solstice