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Soar Into Spring
With Kites!


Spring has sprung! Soar out of the winter doldrums with a lesson plan both you and your students are sure to enjoy. Amid all the fun, the kids might not even realize how much they're learning!


Begin with a quiz.

What popular children's toy

  • is used by teams of adults in competitions around the world?
  • is often featured in poetry, legends, and folk tales?
  • originated in China at least 3,000 years ago?
  • was outlawed during the 18th century because it distracted shopkeepers from their duties?
  • has been used to pull boats, carriages, sleds, and ice skaters?
  • is a traditional New Year's gift for Japanese children?
  • has led directly to major scientific discoveries?
  • helped make Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Graham Bell, Wilbur and Orville Wright, Leonardo da Vinci, Gugliemo Marconi, and Homan Walsh famous?

Answer: The kite

(You might ask students the question one fact at a time. Invite them to write down the answer as soon as they know it and tell which fact helped them figure it out. Collect their responses and then create a chart showing the results.)


Historians believe that the first kites were built in China about 3,000 years ago, using materials, such as bamboo and silk. (Image at right courtesy of clappingsimon.) Kites may have been brought from China to Japan and other Asian countries, historians say, as part of early religious festivals or ceremonies. In fact, the earliest significance of kites was primarily religious. They were widely considered to be useful for ensuring a good harvest or scaring away evil spirits. Throughout the years, as the popularity of kites spread from Asia to Europe and beyond, they became more widely known as children's toys and came to be used primarily as a leisure activity.

Eventually, scientists discovered that kites were also useful for conducting scientific experiments, particularly those involving weather and aerodynamics.

  • In the 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci discovered how to use a kite to span a river.
  • Leonardo da Vinci's method was later used, by 10-year-old Homan Walsh, in the construction of one of the world's first suspension bridges at Niagara Falls, New York.
  • In 1749, Scottish scientist Alexander Wilson used several kites, attached in a row, to measure and compare air temperature at different altitudes.
  • Benjamin Franklin used kites to pull boats, carriages, and sleds in experiments with traction and to experiment with electrical energy in the atmosphere.
  • In 1901, Gugliemo Marconi used a kite to help transmit the first trans-Atlantic wireless telegraph message.

Kite technology also led to the invention of the airplane, the parachute, and the helicopter. It may even have contributed to the U.S. victory during World War II. Sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Block used kites built by Lieutenant Paul Garber to practice shooting at moving targets and to pass important papers from ships to flying aircraft.

Even today, kites are not the exclusive province of children or enthusiastic amateur fliers. Adults around the world participate, individually and in teams, in kite-making and kite-flying competitions and in kite-powered buggy races. Those competitions are governed by strict rules and monitored by organizations, such as The American Kitefliers Association. Still other kite enthusiasts are involved in kite aerial photography. And each spring, the Smithsonian Institution holds a Kite Festival on the Mall near the Washington Monument, draws thousands of visitors to our nation's capital.


Spring is also the perfect time to introduce your students to the fascinating world of kites. The following activities will help ensure that the introduction is both fun and educational.

Geography. Provide each student with a map of the world and the list of foreign-language words for "kite" found at the Google Translate. Invite students to create and decorate a miniature construction paper kite for each country listed. Ask them to label the kite with that country's word for kite and attach it to the correct location on the map. Older students might decorate their kites with a representation of the country's flag. Younger students might each create one kite and attach it to a map on a classroom bulletin board.

Arts and Crafts. First, check out the construction and knot tying tips at The Virtual Kite Zoo. Then pick a sunny, breezy day. Arrange students into small groups, print the directions for building a kite found at one of the other Kite Project Sites listed at the end of this article. Provide each group of students with a copy of the directions and help them complete their kites. If possible, provide students with a safe time and place to fly their creations.

Writing. Ask each student to research classroom, library, or online resources to find information about the life of one of the people mentioned in the quiz at the beginning of this article. Or ask them to find and research another person whose work with kites resulted in an important discovery. Then invite students to write a biography of that person. Encourage students to share the biographies with their classmates.

Art/History. Provide students with historical information from one of the sites referenced at the end of this article. Then provide each student with construction paper in the shape of a simple kite and appropriate art supplies. Ask each student to design a kite that reflects some aspect of the history of kites during the last 3000 years.

Classifying. Ask each student to look through magazines or Web sites to find and print our or cut out pictures of kites. Then create a chart listing the various types of kites, such as box kite, sled kite, stunt kite, and so on. Classify the kites in the collected pictures according to their type. Younger students might classify their pictures according to simpler criteria, such as color or size, instead.

Science. Help students make a anemometer, or wind scale, using the online directions provided by the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education.

More Science. Continue the activity above by using the wind scale to measure wind speed over a period of several days or weeks. Record your findings on a calendar or in a journal and then compare the wind speed readings with the information on The Beaufort Wind Scale. Ask: Which days would have been best for flying a kite?

Health/Art. Brainstorm with students a list of rules for safe kite flying. Then arrange students into pairs and ask each pair to create a poster illustrating one of the kite safety rules discussed.

Word Find. Invite students to complete one of the following weather word searches:
Weather Wiz Kids Word Search
Weather Word Search


Professor Kite and the Secret of Kites
Contains pictures of different kinds of kites and tips on the best wind speed for flying each type. The site also gives general rules for picking good kite-flying days and comprehensive directions to help beginners get their kites off the ground. Basic safety tips are included as well.

The Virtual Kite Zoo
Provides construction tips on kitemaking, an overview of the ways in which kites have been used throughout history (some will surprise you!), and a teachers' page with suggestions for integrating kites into the curriculum. Links to lots of kite projects are also included.

Fly Me to the Moon
Contains 45 pages of clearly written information on the history and science of kite flying.

Famous Historic Kite Flights

20 Kids, 20 Kites, 20 Minutes

Basic Sled Kite

Kite Flight, Safety First

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © Education World

Updated: 03/18/2015