The forecast said it’d be clear, so we took the opportunity to discuss sunlight! We tracked the energy in our bodies first to our food, then to plants, then to sunlight, and finally all the way to the sun. I told them the sun produces energy in its core, from smashing hydrogen atoms together. Something that pops out of that reaction is: a photon! And so sunlight is born.
The first game involved clumping ourselves together and pretending to be the sun. Someone in the middle (the core) would spin around and walk forward until they ran into someone. Then that person would spin around, walk, and bonk into someone. But finally, someone would manage to escape. That’s how photons bounce around in the sun (for about 170,000 years, they estimate) until one of them finally escapes. And then, eight minutes later, a few of them arrive here on Earth.
I said we have built-in photon detectors (our eyes) and that photons can have different colors. I gave them each one of these (with ROYGBIV written on the colors) and we tried bending the papers to make a rainbow. We brought up ultraviolet and infrared, which are a part of every rainbow even if our eyes can’t detect them. I brought out my box of glass prisms and we split the sunlight into rainbows, pointing out the different colors we saw. For our next game the kids all lined up and were assigned a color: red, orange, green, etc. I asked them to run to a certain point, and then split up (while staying in order!). That’s what the prism is doing to the sunlight.
My final stop with all this was photosynthesis, but honestly they were all pretty tired of me by this point. I brought up how plants use the energy in the sun’s photons to make food. Pretending to be a plant, I absorbed all of them except for the green ones, who I spit back out. (That’s why plants appear green; they reflect back a lot of the green photons they receive.) The plants make their food and breathe out oxygen, which is lucky for us because that’s what we happen to breathe in.
With the minutes we had remaining, we played another silly photon-bouncing game and then messed around with the prisms. At the very least, we all got some sunlight!