Understanding the Summer Solstice: A Guide for Teachers

How to mark the summer solstice with your class

The summer solstice, occurring around June 21st in the Northern Hemisphere, is the longest day of the year and marks the official start of summer. It is a perfect opportunity to engage your pupils in the wonders of space science and its practical applications. 

What is the Summer Solstice?

The summer solstice happens when the Earth's axial tilt is most inclined towards the Sun, resulting in the Sun reaching its highest position in the sky at noon. This event is critical in understanding Earth’s rotation, tilt and orbit.

Key Concepts:

  1. Earth's Tilt and Orbit: The Earth is tilted at an angle of approximately 23.5 degrees. This tilt, combined with Earth’s orbit around the Sun, causes the seasons.
  2. Solar Position: During the summer solstice, the Sun is directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer (23.5°N latitude).
  3. Day Length: The tilt results in the longest day and shortest night of the year for the Northern Hemisphere.

Linking to the National Curriculum and Developing Experts

KS1 & KS2: Pupils learn about the sun as a source of light and heat, the basic structure of the solar system and the concept of day and night. To link the summer solstice to one of Developing Experts units, have a look at Year 1 Seasonal Changes and Year 5 Earth and Space

KS3 & KS4: Pupils complete a more detailed study of Earth’s tilt, orbit and the reasons for seasons. Have a look at KS3 Space to learn more. 

Classroom Activities

Shadow Tracking:

Modelling the Solar System:

Analysing Day Length:

Simulating Earth’s Orbit:

The summer solstice provides a fantastic opportunity to delve into space science with your pupils. By connecting these natural phenomena to their daily lives and the broader curriculum, you can inspire curiosity and a deeper understanding of Earth's place in the universe.