Winter Solstice: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Michelle Jones

Michelle has taught at the elementary level and has earned a master's degree.

We experience two solstices every year: summer and winter. These have been observed, studied, and even celebrated for thousands of years. This lesson walks you through what the winter solstice is and why it is important.

What is Winter Like for You?

Depending on where you live in the world, winter can mean cooler temperatures, or it can bring many inches or even feet of snow. Some people look forward to playing in the snow, ice skating, and skiing. Others dread the freezing temperatures, shoveling snow, and slipping on ice.

Whatever your take on winter, you can't escape it, unless you live at the equator where the temperatures are always warm. The winter solstice marks the first day of winter, and it means different things to people all over the world.

When most people think of winter, they think of snow and cold temperatures.
road and trees covered in snow

What is the Winter Solstice?

Even though the sun isn't actually moving, it looks like it is because the Earth is moving around it. The sun always appears to rise in the East, move across the sky, and set in the West. The word solstice actually comes from two Latin words meaning 'sun' and 'to stand still.' So, during a solstice, the sun seems to rise and set in almost the same place because it looks like it's traveling in a straight path.

During the winter solstice, the sun travels across its lowest, or most southern, point in the sky of the entire year. That's why it gets darker so much earlier in the winter. The sun doesn't travel very high into the sky, so there are fewer daylight hours.

So, if you're someone who likes to celebrate the first day of winter, you'd better do it quickly, because the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year! But, you'll have plenty of time to rest afterward, because it also happens to be the longest night of the year.

Notice how the sun appears to be just above the ground. The sun is at its most southern point during the winter solstice.
Picture of the sun low in the sky

When is the Winter Solstice?

When you experience winter solstice depends on where you live. The Earth is divided into halves by imaginary lines. The equator divides it into northern and southern halves, and each half of the Earth is called a hemisphere. The Northern Hemisphere experiences the winter solstice between December 20 and 23, usually on either December 21 or 22. Six months later, on June 20, 21, or 22, the Southern Hemisphere will experience the winter solstice and get its share of the shorter days and colder temperatures.

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