Paper Plate Sundial

By | August 26, 2013
Paper Plate Sundial

My oldest daughter has been trying to learn to tell time.  We practice every now and then, but she never seems to get that excited about it.  However the other day when I told her that we were going to make a sundial this weekend and explained that a sundial is like a clock where the sun tells us what time it is.  She got super excited and wanted to know how the sun knows what time it is (I love how kids put things together in their heads!).

So yesterday I pulled out a paper plate and asked her to write the same numbers on the plate as a clock has.   She started with the 12 and then the 6, then she added the 3 and 9.  Then she added all the other numbers.  I will admit that they are not perfectly placed but for what we were using this for it worked.  If you want them perfectly placed I will explain how to do that in a minute.

Once we had all the numbers on the plate I had her put the pencil through the plate in the center and we then went outside.  It was 1:15 when we went outside so we placed the dial with the 12 facing north and saw the shadow of the pencil just after the number 1.  My daughter thought that was pretty cool.  I told her that we should wait a little and come back to see if it can tell us the time in an hour or so.  And it did.  We checked several times and the sun never got it wrong!

The best way to get your numbers perfectly placed on your paper plate is to let the sun tell you where they go.  You will need to write the number 12 then place the plate with pencil in the sun at noon.  The shadow should be right on the 12 then.  Now just come out every hour and write the number where the shadow is pointing.

Since I was just trying to get my daughter more excited about telling time it really did not matter that our numbers were slightly off.  Most of the time it seemed we were right on with them and she thought it was SUPER COOL that the sun  could tell time.  I think for older kids the accuracy would be more important but my daughter is in first grade so this worked out great.

Check out our  KID CRAFTS board on Pintrest for more fun ideas!


Paper Plate
Sharpie (or any marker)


Write your numbers around the paper plate.
Punch your pencil through the middle of the plate
Point the 12 due north and the sun should tell you what time it is.
NOTE:  If you are not sure where north is then check the time and place the plate facing the directions that is telling you the accurate time.
Go out and check your Sundial through out the day and see if it is keeping good time.
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24 thoughts on “Paper Plate Sundial

  1. Gina Wamsley

    This is great! We are also doing time AND we have been talking about sun dials in our history class. This is a perfect project for a hot sunny day like today! Thanks!

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  4. Mohammad

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  5. pete.d

    “The best way to get your numbers perfectly placed on your paper plate is to let the sun tell you where they go”

    Note that with this particular approach, that’s the _only_ way to get the numbers even close to right. I’m sure the sundial shown was fun to make, and it bears at least a passing resemblance to a working sundial, and that’s all worth something. It certainly would be a fun project for any small child. But it doesn’t even come close to being a useful time-keeping device.

    Two main points: the sun is on a 24-hour clock; using a 12-hour clock face for the pie plate would work only if the sun moved around the observer twice in a single day. Similarly, the 12-hour clock face is showing 6 o’clock where a shadow would have to point due south, meaning the sun would be due north at that time, clearly an impossibility for most people (i.e. anyone in the northern hemisphere, south of the Arctic circle).

    There are a number of online resources for making _working_ paper sundials. Many allow you to enter your latitude and then generate a sundial face to match your location which can then be downloaded and printed out, but my favorite is this “equatorial” sundial, where the face is the same regardless of location, with the adjustment for latitude being made by the angle of the face of the sundial:

  6. Linda

    Pretty please put the point of that pencil in the ground with eraser up.

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