June 21st is the summer solstice here in the northern hemisphere, and the winter solstice in the southern hemisphere. This marks a time when the earth’s axis tilts towards the sun, as it will between June and September, causing warm weather and “longer” days in the northern hemisphere, and cold weather and “shorter” days in the southern hemisphere. We will have more minutes of sunlight in the northern hemisphere on Monday, than on any other day of the year – thirteen hours and 1 minute, to be exact. Celebrate the changing seasons with your class by trying some of the lesson plans below.
Build Your Own Stonehenge
Built between 3100 and 1550 BC, Stonehenge is located on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England. Stonehenge’s axis is pointed roughly in the direction of the sunrise at the summer and winter solstices. Some scientists believe it was used to foretell eclipses of the sun and the moon by the positions of these celestial bodies in relation to the stone monument. The site may have served as an observatory where early rituals or religious ceremonies took place on specific days of the year. Here are instructions for building your own Stonehenge.
Read Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
The “midsummer night” is actually the night of the summer solstice. It is said that on Midsummer Night elves and fairies come out in great numbers. In some traditions, the summer solstice is the time of the Sun God.
Midsummer’s Eve / St. John’s Eve
These two are often considered seperate, but are both the night before the summer solstice. In England, it was the ancient custom on St. John’s Eve to light large bonfires after sundown, which served the double purpose of providing light to the revelers and warding off evil spirits. This was known as ‘setting the watch’. In Britain, it was once believed you could gather fern seed at the stroke of midnight and rub it onto your eyelids to make fairies visible! Wearing your jacket inside-out on Midsummer’s Eve will keep you out of danger. An adventurous few even stay up all night – the shortest night of the year.
Other customs included decorating the house, especially the front door, with birch, fennel, St. John’s wort, orpin, and white lilies. Five plants were thought to have special magical properties on this night: rue, roses, St. John’s wort, vervain and trefoil. Have students research these plants and make a wreath for your own classroom door.
Serve “pixie sticks” and other treats for a summer solstice party. To make fairy wings, bend two wire hangers into the shape of a wings, then cover each with any color variety of hosiery, tying the sock off where the two wings come together. Use school glue to draw patterns on the wings, then sprinkle with glitter and let dry. Fasten the wings together with safety pins or by sewing together, and pin to clothing.