Pinwheel Power in the Wind

Celebrate the warm winds of spring with a colorful, breezy pinwheel investigation! In this lesson, students will learn about wind energy as they use a pinwheel to model a wind turbine.

Content Area:

Weather and Seasons

Learning Goals:

This lesson will help toddlers and preschoolers meet the following educational standards:

  • Demonstrate curiosity about the world and begin to use the practices of science and engineering to answer questions and solve problems
  • Explore concepts and information about the physical, earth and life sciences
  • Understand important connections and understandings in science and engineering

Learning Targets:

After this lesson, toddlers and preschoolers should be more proficient at:

  • Developing beginning skills in the use of science and engineering practices such as observing, asking questions, solving problems and drawing conclusions
  • Drawing meaning from experience and information by describing, talking and thinking about what happened during an investigation
  • Collecting, describing, comparing and recording information from observations and investigations
  • Exploring the effect of force on objects in the early childhood environment
  • Observing and discussing changes in weather and seasons using common vocabulary words
  • Exploring concepts of force and motion
  • Exploring changes related to the weather and the seasons
  • Using tools and technology to assist with science and engineering investigations
toddler with sunflower

Pinwheel Power in the Wind

Lesson plan for toddlers/preschoolers

Step 1: Gather materials.

  • Pinwheels for each child in the class
  • Hand streamers for toddlers to use to determine wind force and direction
  • A windy day!

Note: Small parts pose a choking hazard and are not appropriate for children age five or under. Be sure to choose lesson materials that meet safety requirements.

Step 2: Introduce activity.

  1. Explain that the children will use pinwheels to determine the force and direction of the wind.
  2. Explain that a pinwheel is a simple example of a wind turbine. Introduce the vocabulary words “wind, wind turbine and windmill” and discuss how wind can be used to power things.
  3. Say: “We are going to use our pinwheels to create our own wind turbines and observe how the pinwheel spins when the wind comes at it from different directions.”
  4. Introduce the children to the concept of wind power. Say: “Wind is moving air. Wind can make things move. What things have you seen the wind moving?”
  5. Ask: “Have you ever seen a wind turbine when riding in the car?” Say: “When we capture the power of the wind to do work, we call this ‘wind energy.’ Sometimes, wind energy can power machines to make things easier and faster for people. Early American settlers used windmills to pump water from wells and grind grain. We use wind turbines to generate electricity, which can provide power for farms and factories—and even the lights in our houses!”
  6. Say: “Wind is invisible, just like air. Even though we can’t see wind, we can see the things that are moved by the wind.”
  7. Ask: “How can we tell if the wind is blowing?”

Step 3: Engage children in lesson activities.

  1. Instruct the children to do a “pinwheel check” by blowing on their pinwheels to see if they spin.
  2. Tell the children to blow on their pinwheels from the front, back and both sides. Do the pinwheels spin? Which way do they spin?
  3. Then tell the children to blow above and below the blades and ask: “Do they spin now”?
  4. Take the pinwheels outside on a windy day. Instruct the children to hold their pinwheels facing the wind, sideways to the wind and away from the wind. Ask the children to observe when the pinwheels spin.
  5. Now tell the children that they are going to determine the wind direction. Say: “Lick your finger and hold it up in the air. Feel which way the wind is blowing on your finger. Your finger should feel cool if the wind is blowing directly onto your finger.”
  6. Find a very high point, such as the top of a hill or a playground structure. Ask: “Does the pinwheel spin faster when it’s higher?” Just like engineers, the children will figure out where the pinwheel spins fastest by testing it out in different areas of the playground or at different elevations.

Step 4: Vocabulary.

  • Pinwheel: A toy that spins around when the wind blows
  • Wind: Moving air
  • Windmill: Wind turbines used to be called windmills. A long time ago, people used windmills to grind grain and pump water out of low-lying areas near the sea.
  • Wind turbine: A machine that harnesses wind to produce electricity

Early Science Glossary

Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.

Adapt Lesson for Toddlers
Toddlers may:
  • Be happy just to spin the pinwheel with their hands
Child care providers may:
  • Use hand streamers or crepe paper to help children “see” the wind
Adapt Lesson for Preschoolers
Preschoolers may:
  • Experiment with the direction of the wind and the placement of the pinwheel
  • Enjoy having pinwheels available during free-play periods outdoors
Child care providers may:
  • Experiment with wind speed by using a house fan
  • Place flags near windows to help the children “see” the wind throughout the day

Suggested Books

  • Feel the Wind by Arthur Dorros
  • Gilberto and the Wind by Marie Hall Ets
  • I Face the Wind by Vicki Cobb (author) and Julia Gorton (illustrator)
  • Kate, Who Tamed the Wind by Liz Garton Scanlon (author) and Lee White (illustrator)
  • Millicent and the Wind by Robert Munsch (author) and Suzanne Duranceau (illustrator)
  • The Wind Blew (Rise and Shine) by Pat Hutchins
  • Wind (Whatever the Weather) by Carol Thompson

Music and Movement

Outdoor Connections

  • This is a perfect science experiment for warm spring days, but any windy day will work!

Web Resources

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