Backyard Science: Weather’s Whims

by Christy Peterson

I think a lot about weather this time of year. Mostly my thoughts run along the lines of “please, can we just have a little sun today!” Friends in Colorado and other drought-stricken regions are longing for the same rain I’m finding monotonous. Every winter, my son wishes for lots and lots of snow.

In its simplest form, weather is the state of the atmosphere at a particular location at a specific point in time. Constant changes in weather are the result of great masses of air moving from one place to another. Variations in air pressure cause this movement. Throw in a little water vapor and a bit of electricity, and you have the ingredients for the great variety of weather we experience on the planet.

Weather is a great family science topic. Even preschoolers can identify rainy, sunny, cloudy, and snowy days. Older kids can make more subtle observations and can learn to measure and quantify the conditions they observe.

The Family Weather Center

Set aside a square of wall, a bulletin board, or even the fridge to collect your weather data. You can assign each family member an age-appropriate data-collecting job, or you can work on each activity together. Have pins or magnets handy for posting your information. Following are some weather activity suggestions.

The Weather I See

Daily weather records are a familiar sight on preschool and primary bulletin boards. A large-format desk calendar works well for this project, but you can use a smaller calendar or even make your own grid. For little ones, keep the categories simple—sunny, cloudy, rainy, and snowy. Create your own icons to represent each condition, or have the kids draw them!

Extension: at the end of a designated time period (a month works well), create a bar graph to see which condition was most prevalent.

The World’s Highs (or Lows)

Grab a globe or a world map. Choose five cities, including your own. Make sure you at least one city from the hemisphere opposite yours. Choosing far-away cities where friends and family live is fun. Each day (again, gathering data for a month works well), record the high temperature (or the low temperature, your choice) for that city.

Extension: when my kids were in 2nd grade, we used the data from this project to create a line graph. We put temperature on the Y-axis and date on the X-axis. We assigned each city’s line on the graph a different color. It was fun to see the variation in temperature across the world on any given day.

Recording Rainfall

Each day for a month, record the amount of rain that falls. You can look the rainfall for your town on sites like Weather Underground (see URL below). You can also make your own rain gauge. There are many websites that explain how to do this. I think the instructions at Weird Science Kids are especially well written:

Extension: there are all kinds of ways you can use this data. One thing you can do with older kids is compare rainfall on a given day for the last 20, 40, or even 100 years. Have there been any substantial changes in precipitation levels over time? You can extend this further by choosing a day in winter, spring, summer, and fall and comparing rainfall in each season over the years.

Barometric Pressure in Action

The concept of barometric pressure is more abstract than temperature or rainfall. However, differences in pressure cause air masses to move from one place to the other and ultimately drive the weather we observe. To make this phenomenon more concrete for kids, you can make your own barometer. It’s surprisingly easy. The howstuffworks website has two different methods using everyday household materials.

Extension: use your barometer for your own weather predictions. Usually, when the pressure falls, a storm of some sort is on the way. When the pressure rises, good (or at least stable) weather is coming. Have kids observe their barometer and predict what the weather will be for that day or the next. How accurate are their predictions?

Online Resources

These websites offer free curricula, activities, and data.

National Weather Service’s Weather Education Page:

National Oceanic and Atmosphere Education Resources:

American Meteorological Society’s Weather Education Resources:

Weather Underground (current and historical weather data):

Weather Wiz Kids (weather information just for kids)

The Weather Dude (resources for kids and parents):

Weather Books

The Rough Guide to Weather, by Robert Henson

Janice VanCleave’s Weather: Mind-Boggling Experiments You Can Turn Into Science Fair Projects, by Janice VanCleave

Eye Wonder: Weather, by DK Publishing

Weather: Whipping up a Storm, by Dan Green

Discover Science: Weather, by Caroline Harris

The Magic School Bus Kicks up a Storm: A Book About Weather, by Nancy White

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, by Judi Barrett (fiction, but fun!)

Christy Peterson

Christy Peterson is notorious for shouting “Look, LOOK” when she spots wildlife while riding in a car. Her husband begrudgingly admits that this can sometimes be useful, like when she spotted the grizzly bear in Yellowstone. When she isn’t nearly causing road accidents, she is a freelance writer. She lives in Vancouver, WA with the aforementioned husband, two kids, two dogs, three cats, two guinea pigs, one frog, three lizards, and some fish! She blogs at