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How To Build A Solar Oven + Solar Energy Science Experiment For Kids

Do your kids enjoy eating s’mores? If so, we’ve got a great sustainability science experiment to teach them about the benefits of solar energy while indulging in a decadent homemade snack, warmed to perfection by the sun. Read on for instructions to make a DIY solar oven. Learn more about the sustainability science of solar energy, and why it’s so important to our future and the planet. 

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My kids go bonkers over s’mores. The melty marshmallow and chocolate on a crunchy graham cracker is a delicacy in their book. Let’s be real… I’m a pretty big fan of the campfire combination too.

Health and Environmental Costs of Wood-Burning Cooking

While it’s novel for us to cook over an open flame, three billion people around the world use stoves to burn wood, coal, and other materials to cook over open fires regularly, often out of necessity. Many cook over smoky flames, even indoors. 

Cooking regularly over an open flame leads to a host of problems. The smoke from the fire contributes to air pollution and respiratory health problems. According to the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, “together with domestic heating and lamps, residential cooking accounts for 58 percent of global black carbon emissions, a super-pollutant with significant impacts on global warming.” Black carbon, or soot, is a fine particulate matter that pollutes the air and contributes to climate change. 

Open flame cookers, like wood-burning stoves, as a primary source of meal preparation also require a lot of time collecting firewood or other fuel. When children, most often girls, are responsible for this task, they may miss opportunities to attend school or participate in educational activities.

Make S’mores With a DIY Solar Oven

Solar ovens are a great alternative to open-flame cooking methods. For fun, we can make s’mores in a DIY solar oven with just a few repurposed materials, instead of collecting firewood, constructing a bonfire, and releasing black carbon into the air. In places experiencing drought or ripe for wildfires, open fires for s’more may not be a safe option due to the risk of the flames spreading. 

Opt for a repurposed pizza box oven or choose any cardboard box to make a DIY solar oven using the instructions we included below to have safe, delicious s’mores while also learning about the sustainability science of solar energy in your own backyard or classroom setting.

Solar Ovens As Clean Cookstoves Around The World

More importantly, on a global scale, solar ovens offer an innovative solution to swap carbon fuel sources for renewable energy alternatives, provide a healthier cooking method for people around the world, and reduce time spent collecting firewood or other fuel so children can attend more school. While it seems like a simple tool, solar ovens help us make progress toward several United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Solar ovens promote United Nation Sustainable Development Goals #7 Clean Energy, Goal # 4 Quality Education, Goal #3 Good Health and Well-Being, and Goal #2 Zero Hunger as families have greater access to a safer, low-cost, renewable energy cooking method to make nutritious food for their families. 

How To Make An Upcycled Solar Oven

We’ve created a simple upcycled solar oven DIY science experiment for kids to demonstrate how the sun heats and cooks food (and makes tasty s’mores!). With some basic materials you likely have in your home, kids observe a solar oven heating an enclosed space and melting marshmallows and chocolate to perfection without any smoke, fossil fuels, or electricity.

This experiment is part of our Renewable Energy Workbook for Kids we created to highlight the renewable energy used by the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. Head over to the Renewable Energy Resource Workbook post for a bunch more information on renewable energy, specifically solar and biomass energy, as well as more information about all the activities included in the workbook. 

If you already know you want to download the workbook to get the printables for this DIY solar oven experiment, drop your email address in the form below. We will send the downloadable Renewable Energy Resource Activity Book right to your inbox.

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    Notes About DIY Solar Oven Materials & Tools

    You likely already have supplies in your home to make a DIY solar oven. You may need one or two additional tools to complete the sustainability science experiment to observe the solar energy effects of a solar oven compared to outdoor heat transfer from sunlight alone. Here are a few things to consider about the materials to make an upcycled DIY solar oven with kids.

    Cardboard Box or Pizza Box

    Any cardboard box or pizza box will work to create your solar oven so long as it’s large enough to hold the food you plan to cook. We made s’mores, so the box did not need to be that large. We used shoeboxes for our solar oven experiment. Pizza box solar ovens are very popular as well.

    Thermometer

    You will need two thermometers to complete the solar energy science experiment in the Renewable Energy Resource Workbook. At least one of the thermometers must be small enough to fit inside the DIY solar oven but large enough to read without opening the box.

    We prefer these Liquid-In-Glass Laboratory Thermometers, but you’re welcome to use whatever you have on hand if you already own something that will do the trick.

    Toothpick or Small Stick

    Depending on the size of your solar oven, you may need a stick that’s a bit bigger than a toothpick. You need something strong enough and tall enough to hold open the flap to reflect sunlight down into the solar oven box. A straw, a pencil, or stick from your yard, or any sturdy stick will work.

    All the other materials and supplies are pretty straightforward. However, if you have any questions about them, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask in the comments below or via email.

    If you try this sustainability science experiment, let us know how it goes. Share in the comments or post on social media and tag us @RaisingGlobalKidizens on Instagram or Pinterest so we can see it. We love seeing you bring our activities to life in your home or classroom!

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    How To Build A Solar Oven + Solar Energy Science Experiment For Kids

    How To Build A Solar Oven + Solar Energy Science Experiment For Kids

    Prep Time: 20 minutes
    Active Time: 1 hour
    Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes

    Follow these instructions to make an upcycled DIY solar oven. Learn more about the sustainability science of solar energy, and why solar energy is important to our future and the planet.

    Materials

    Materials To Make A DIY Solar Oven

    • A cardboard box with a lid that can be opened and closed, such as a shoe box or pizza box
    • Aluminum foil
    • Clear plastic wrap or plastic bag
    • Tape

    Materials For Solar Oven Heat Energy Science Experiment

    • Crayon or marker
    • Toothpick or small stick

    Materials To Make S'mores in A Solar Oven

    • 2 small plates
    • Marshmallows
    • Graham crackers
    • Chocolate

    Tools

    • Scissors or Box Cutter (to be used with adult supervision)
    • 2 Thermometers
    • Timer

    Instructions

    Instructions to Build A Solar Oven

    1. Draw a large, horizontal rectangle on the top of the box lid.
    2. Cut out three of the four sides of the rectangle - the two short vertical sides and one bottom horizontal side - using a box cutter or scissors.
    3. Fold the rectangle up along the horizontal side that was not cut to create a flap.
    4. Tape aluminum foil to the underside of the flap. This will serve as a reflective surface for sunlight to enter the box.
    5. Open the box lid and tape a piece of clear plastic wrap or plastic bag on the underside of the rectangular opening. This creates a window for sunlight to enter the box while trapping the heat inside.
    6. Line the inside of the box with aluminum foil. You may need to tape the foil to the sides of the box to keep it in place.
    7. Place a thermometer inside the box so that you can observe it through the window.
    8. Close the lid of the box and use a toothpick or small stick to adjust the angle of the aluminum foil-covered flap to reflect sunlight through the window of the oven.
    9. Make a sketch of your solar oven, using arrows to represent how heat energy will enter your oven.

    Instructions to Assemble and Bake the S’mores

    1. Obtain 2 small plates.
    2. On each plate, stack the following in order, from bottom to top - graham cracker square, marshmallow, piece of chocolate bar.
    3. Place your solar oven on a flat surface outside in direct sunlight.
    4. Place one s’more plate inside of the solar oven and one s’more plate outside of the oven.
    5. Put a second thermometer next to the plate located outside of the oven.
    6. Observe and record the initial temperatures inside and outside of the oven. Observe the temperature inside the solar oven without opening the box to avoid heat escaping.
    7. Every ten minutes, record the temperature displayed on each thermometer and observe the s’more. The s’more is done cooking when the marshmallow has approximately doubled in size.

    Notes

    This experiment works best on a sunny day when the air temperature is 27℃ (80℉) or higher. Lower air temperatures will increase experiment time.

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    About The Authors

    Jen Panaro

    Jen Panaro, a co-founder of Raising Global Kidizens, is a self-proclaimed composting nerd and an advocate for sustainable living for modern families. She’s also a serial library book borrower and a messy gardener.

    As a mom to two boys, she is passionate about helping families be more responsible stewards to their communities and the planet. She also owns Honestly Modern, an online space focused on eco-friendly living for families.

    Jess Purcell

    Jess Purcell, a co-founder of Raising Global Kidizens, is a science educator who is dedicated to making the science of sustainability accessible to all learners. She creates sustainability science lessons and nature activities written for students of all ages to be done in the classroom or at home to foster critical thinking skills and a love of the natural world. You can find more of her work at Thoughtfully Sustainable.

    Jess lives in central Pennsylvania with her husband, two kids, and two cats and can usually be found outside, working out the kinks of an experiment, upcycling trash into “treasure”, hiking with her family, or attempting to read a book while being cajoled into a game of hide-and-seek.

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