Sundials

Learn From Home Activity

Background Information

If you have ever wandered around the Sharon Temple National Historic Site and Museum and explored the area around our 1819 Doan House, you may have stumbled upon the sundial. 

 

The oldest known sundial can be traced back to Egypt's Valley of the Kings in c.1500 BCE. Many styles of sundials are still used as decorative features today. Sundials would be used for a number of purposes - they could track work hours and also were used for religious observance in different cultures. Additionally, as developments occurred and the technology of sundials became more sophisticated, seasons, solstices and equinoxes can also be tracked. 

 

Even with the development of watches and clocks, sundials remained popular and in use. When they stopped working, watches and clocks needed to be accurately re-set. Meanwhile, sundials never stopped working. 

However, that is not to say that sundials did not present their own set of challenges for their user. Since sundials use the shadow from the sun to show time, they need to be placed in the perfect position to do so. As the sun moves from east to west, shadows form to predict the time of day. 

To work correctly, sundials need to be set up so they are exactly parallel with the axis of the planet. For horizontal sundials, like the one in the Doan garden, they are designed to be used on flat, horizontal surfaces at 45 degrees north. Because they are generally easy to read with sunlight lighting the face of the dial throughout the year, they are one of the most popular varieties of sundials and often used in gardens, courtyards and other common areas. 

While convenient for quickly telling time, sundials are not always the most reliable. Aside from the issues with placement, sundials do not account for modern time changes like daylight savings time, or for the shorter sunlight hours that come with changing seasons. As a result, "solar hour" is a term that considers a 40 to 80 minute period of time that will adjust depending on the season. During winter, hours will be shorter (40 minutes), while they tend to be longer (80 minutes) in the summer. 

One additional feature that is almost always included on sundials is a phrase or motto. The sundial in the Doan garden includes the phrase "I record only the sunny hours", which is translated from the Latin "horas non numero nisi serenas". Oftentimes, mottoes will serve as reminders of passing time, morality, making use of time and virtues. 

Curriculum Connections

Social Studies - Grade 3: Strand A. Heritage and Identity: Communities in Canada, 1780-1850 (A1.1, A2.5, A2.6, A3.2, A3.3, A3.4)

Social Studies - Grade 4: Strand A. Heritage and Identity: Early Societies to 1500 CE (A1.2, A1.3, A2.2, A2.6, A3.1, A3.3, A3.4, A3.5, A3.6)
Science and Technology - Grade 4: Understanding Matter and Energy: Light and Sound (3.1, 3.6)

Science and Technology - Grade 6: Understanding Earth and Space Systems: Space (2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4)

The Arts - Grade 3: Visual Arts (D1.1)

The Arts - Grade 4: Visual Arts (D1.1)

The Arts - Grade 5: Visual Arts (D1.1)

Activity

Supplies

Paper plate

Straw or pencil

Scissors

Tape

Push pins (x2)

Crayons, markers, stickers, etc. 

Instructions

1. Using a pencil, mark each of the hours (1-12) on a paper plate with 12 at the top and 6 at the bottom. Once they are in the right spot, you can draw over them with a crayon. 

2. Pop a hole into the middle of the plate with scissors. Insert a straw or a pencil. If needed, use tape to make it stand upright. 

3. Decorate your plate or the face of your sundial. Maybe even add a phrase of your own.

4. Using a phone, clock or watch, check the current time (it's best to do this on the hour). 

5. Go outside and move the sundial around until it reflects the proper time. Use the push pins to secure the sundial in place.

6. Check back regularly to see how the shadow has moved as time passes!

7. Once complete, send us a photo on social media, tag us @sharontemplenhs and use the hashtag #STLearnFromHome!

Want to create your own sundial to keep track of time or count "only the sunny hours"? Follow the instructions below to make your own using items from around your own house. Wait for a sunny day and test out your sundial!

© Sharon Temple Museum Society

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