“A toy that expands your horizon.”™
A soft Earth ball is home to peg people who spend their days exploring shadows and light, day and night, the shape of the Earth, the horizon, the Earth’s orbit around the Sun and how it all works together to make the years go by and the seasons change.
Soft Earth is a squishy Earth ball where Peg People live! A fun soft earth ball that is also a cool tool for science.
Reveal the secrets of day and night and Earth’s motion.
Engage kids with this model of the Earth and show how the globe creates day and night.
Kids will learn how the Sun is always shining on some part of the Earth. They will use this model to help shape their own scientific observations about what a “day” is and understand what is really happening at sunset, noon, and sunrise. Kids will begin to see that night is not just what time it is… it is “where you are!”
Every day, the Sun shines in some part of the Earth’s sky. The Sun “moves” across the sky from east to west. But actually, the Sun only appears to move. The Sun “moves” in the sky only because the Earth moves. We live on the Earth and we are carried under the Sun each day.
The Earth moves in two main ways that cause “observable patterns” in sunlight and shadow:
- The Earth rotates about an axis that goes between its north and south poles – this is what causes day and night and makes sunrise and sunset happen.
- The Earth travels in an orbit (a oval-shaped path through outer space) around the Sun – the orbit of the Earth causes monthly and yearly changes to the positions of the Sun, Moon, and Earth.
The Sun is always shining – even at night! We know this because we can speak to other people on the Earth who are facing the Sun at the same time that we are facing away from the Sun.
Each year the motions of the Earth and Sun repeat.
Set up and requirements
The Earth globe. Place the rigid (the part that is not soft) velcro dots on a few parts of the Earth. Some suggestions: your home location, a country at the equator, the North Pole, a country on the opposite eastern/western hemisphere to your home (in the USA, you could choose China or India), and a country in the opposite northern/southern hemisphere.
The peg people. Place the soft part (the fabric) of the velcro dot on the bottom of the peg people. You can decorate these peg people as you like or ask kids to do it!
The Sun. Choose a free standing lamp, a window, or just use the Sun itself to “be” the Sun.
This activity can be done at any time of day. Before introducing the peg people who live on this globe, hold the globe up and show the kids all the interesting parts: the countries, the oceans, the north and south poles, the equator, (maybe the lines of latitude and longitude and the lines of Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn for advanced students).
Introduce the peg people. They live on the globe. Place the first peg person on the home location.
Basic Earth location
Explore the Earth and point out where “you” live!
Advanced Earth location
People in the same country often live in different time zones.
Basic Earth motion – Rotation
The Earth rotates counterclockwise (as seen from the north pole). The peg people are carried along on the Earth as it rotates each day.
Advanced Earth motion – Orbit
The Earth also moves in a great ring-shaped orbit around the Sun over the course of a year.
Explanation – The Science
The peg people experience day.
Let’s talk about daily rotation of the Earth! Here are some science facts we will learn and observe with our own measurements.
- The Earth rotates once per day. Rotate means we face towards the Sun (day) then we slowly turn away from the Sun (sunset), then we keep turning (night) until we face the Sun again (sunrise). This repeats every day!
- Every hour of every day and night the Earth carries people at the equator 1000 miles (1600 km)! Around New York this is about 760 miles per hour (the further from the equator, the slower you go). So in 24 hours the Earth carries us 24*760 = 18,240 miles!
- Part of that time we travel under the Sun and the Sun shines on us (this is called day).
- The Earth carries us eastward, so the Sun appears to rise in the east and travel west.
- You can have the kids “see” this by having them face towards a light (this will be the Sun) then turn to the right until they can just still see the light out of the left side of their vision – this is sunrise.
- Now, have them turn back left until they are facing the light again – this is noon.
- Then keep turning left until the light is only visible out of the right side of their vision – this is sunset.)
- The Sun is always shining on some part of the Earth – it’s not always our part!
The peg people experience a month and a year.
Let’s talk about yearly orbit of the Earth! Here are some science facts we will learn and observe with our own measurements.
- The Earth orbits once per year. Orbit means we travel in a large circular pathway around the Sun.
- Every day the Earth moves a little bit further along on that giant pathway (orbit) – 1.6 million miles (2.57million km) per day
- It takes 6 months to go halfway around the Sun. Hint: that is 6 times about 30 days of rotation.
- The orbit carries us “toward the dawn” – the Earth (as seen from above the North Pole) orbits counter-clockwise (eastward) at the same time the Earth’s daily rotation carries us “toward the dawn” (eastward).
- The orbit combined with the tilt of the Earth
- The Earth’s daily rotation is on a tilt.
- Each season of the year a different part of the Earth is tilted toward the Sun.
- Tilting toward the Sun makes the Sun appear higher in the sky (summer).
- Tilting away from the Sun makes the Sun appear lower in the sky (winter).
“Sun tracking” the daily rotation combined with the orbit
These two motions together (with the tilt of the Earth) explain everything about the experience of day, night, month, and year.
- Sun – A ball of hot gas that forms the center of gravity in our solar system. All the planets orbit the Sun. Because the Earth orbits the Sun, from the Earth, we see the main motion of the Sun as east to west. However, (over a longer time scale of weeks and months) the Sun also appears to move north and south.
- Earth – Where we live. It’s a ball-shaped planet that rotates and orbits. These two movements make days, months, and years.
- Shadow – a darkened area some distance away from an object and a light source. A solid object blocks a light source and causes a shadow. Usually the shadow is the shape of the solid object.
- Rotation – The daily motion of the Earth. It spins counter clockwise on its polar axis.
- Axis – The center “pole” of a spinning object.
- North pole – The imaginary line that points out of the “top” of the Earth.
- South pole -The imaginary line that points out of the “bottom” of the Earth.
- Orbit – A (roughly circular) path that an object follows around another larger object.
- Outer space – a region of space that is not part of the Earth of another object in space.
- Time – Labels for moments. Time is a way of naming motion.
- Date – Labels for days, months, and years. Dates are a way of recording which day it is.
Hour by hour motion. Before you start using the Soft Earth and peg people for the first time, tell the kids to get a rough idea of where the Sun is now (in their own sky). Then they will check again at least an hour later. Have the kids guess where the Sun is going to “be” in the sky in 1 hour.
Tips and hints
Make sure everyone is clear on what is day and night – it’s about where you are in the Earth’s shadow!
Follow up activities
Encourage kids to try to imagine “being on the surface of a ball” like the peg people the next time they see the Sun coming up in the morning. Where were the peg people in the morning? Where are you?