Precipitation Facts for Kids

Rain, sleet and snow falling from the sky can generate wonderment from youngsters. When your kids are ready to explore precipitation, brush up on your science knowledge so you can give them some answers 1. Because the water cycle creates precipitation, your kids will need to understand this principle 123. Help them learn about it through engaging activities that explain precipitation facts 1.

Precipitation Basics

Present the basics to your child, first. Although precipitation has to come from clouds, clouds are not responsible for creating precipitation, according to the website 1. Clouds hold small water droplets and ice crystals. At the top of a cloud, ice crystals become larger as they attract additional water vapor. With the increasing size and weight of the ice crystals, they move down to the bottom of the cloud and eventually they fall from the cloud as precipitation 1. The form of precipitation depends on the temperature of the air 1.

The Water Cycle

Introduce the different components of the water cycle, including precipitation 123. For precipitation to happen, the other steps of the water cycle also must occur 123. The first step of the water cycle involves evaporation, with the sun heating bodies of water such as rivers, lakes and oceans 23. Evaporation turns this water into vapor or steam, according to the KidZone Science website 2. As the water vapor moves up through the air, it gets cold. This temperature change turns the water into clouds, a process known as condensation. As clouds become full of moisture, eventually they can’t hold any more and then precipitation falls from the clouds 1. The precipitation soaks into the earth and turns into ground water, which is the water that people and animals drink 14. Precipitation also collects in bodies of water, where it starts the water cycle over again as it begins evaporating 123.

Types of Precipitation

Precipitation can fall as rain, sleet, freezing rain, hail or snow, states the U.S. Geological Survey website 14. Rain is the most common form of precipitation 1. Dispel the myth of raindrop shape for your child. Although many pictures of raindrops are large and rounded at the bottom and narrow and pointed at the top, most raindrops resemble a hamburger bun, according to the U.S. Geological Survey website 4. Raindrops can also vary in size, with some being as small as 1 mm in diameter and others reaching 4 to 5 mm in diameter. A gentle rain typically has smaller raindrops and a thunderstorm has larger raindrops, according to Thomas McDuffie, a science and math education professor at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Rain also varies in the speed it falls. Fog would be the slowest form, virtually floating. A cloudburst would be the fastest, falling at a speed of 113 drops per second.

Activities for Learning

Simple activities can demonstrate precipitation for children 1. Provide a cotton ball and a shallow dish of cold water for your child. Ask your child to describe how the dry cotton ball feels – it probably feels light and soft. Have your child place the cotton ball onto the surface of the water so water soaks into the cotton ball, simulating evaporation and condensation. Instruct your child to hold the saturated cotton ball over the water. The cotton ball will drip water because the water is too heavy for the cotton ball to hold it, simulating precipitation 14.

Demonstrate the different sizes and shapes of raindrops for children. Place sifted all-purpose flour in a shallow pie pan and provide your child with a piece of cardboard for covering the flour. Venture outside in the rain and have your child hold out the pie pan to allow rain to fall on the flour for about 10 seconds. Cover the pie pan with the cardboard and go back inside again. The raindrops that fell on the flour will have created separate balls of dough. Sift the balls of dough with a sieve to separate them from the flour and allow them to dry for a few minutes. After they dry, check the diameter of the dough balls to determine the size of the raindrops falling outside.