Education (May 2011)

Five Ways to Appreciate Clouds

Consider the proverb April showers bring May flowers. That pretty much sums up spring and its wacky weather patterns. With this unpredictable weather come clouds –cumulus, cirrus and stratus – and a chance for savvy parents to teach their kids about an aspect of nature that doesn’t always receive its due. The Cloud Appreciation Society contends, “Clouds are so commonplace that their beauty is often overlooked. They are for dreamers and their contemplation benefits the soul.”

Below are five approaches to cloud appreciation that any family can enjoy.

  1. Look up. If it’s one of those rare calm days when cumulus clouds (those fat, puffy ones) punctuate the blue, head outdoors for a family picnic. Invite your kids to lie back and imagine animal shapes overhead. Want to identify what you’re seeing? Download the cloud spotter wheel or cloud observing form from the National Weather Service and practice picking out the main types of clouds.
  2. Check out the library. Several art books feature beautiful tableaus of clouds, perfect for children of all ages. Try browsing through a book of landscape art by the British painter John Constable or the French Impressionist Claude Monet. Or introduce your children to the dramatic black and white photographs by Ansel Adams. These stunning cloudscapes are as impressive as the real thing – and a little art appreciation thrown in the mix doesn’t hurt either.
  3.  Go online. There are great kid-friendly weather websites with wonderful activities about the science behind clouds. “Web Weather for Kids” is an interactive site that includes cloud charts, quizzes, experiments and games, all to encourage the young and curious to explore the skies. Another website, “Weather Wiz Kids,” created by meteorologist Crystal Wicker, includes weather jokes, folklore and photos.
  4. Pop in a movie. Believe it or not, clouds are a key character in many movies, especially animated films. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Sony Pictures Animation, chronicles a lovable scientist and his weather-food inventions; or try Partly Cloudy, a five-minute Pixar short, which highlights an unlucky (but adorable) cloud who fashions the trickiest of animal infants for a stork to deliver. For teenage cloud connoisseurs, try more mature movies such as Twister or The Perfect Storm.

  5. Create your own clouds. Crafty kids will enjoy making their own clouds. Simply cut shapes from paper or felt and tack them to the wall with tape, or create a cloud mobile by pulling and shaping cotton batting into cloud shapes, suspending them at various lengths from a wooden dowel using fishing line, and then taping the whole thing to the ceiling. When you’re done, lounge on the floor and pretend you’re outside looking up. Make a day of it with an indoor picnic and a few books on clouds.

Cloud appreciation is one of the easiest, most fulfilling ways to learn about weather, and by educating your children about what happens above, you can introduce them to the joys of observing the natural world, too.

Jen Henderson is a freelance writer and science enthusiast.

Main Categories of Clouds

Cirrus is Latin for hair. These wispy, hair-like clouds occur at the highest parts of the atmosphere. Made primarily of ice crystals, their hooked strands often indicate upper wind direction.

Cumulus is Latin for heaps. These are the puffy, cotton-like shapes that most people think of when they imagine clouds. Created by convection and composed mainly of water droplets, they can indicate fair weather or transform into rainclouds.

Stratus is Latin for layers. These clouds are usually found closest to the earth, forming a blanket in the sky (think of fog or the haze of a rainy day). They can also mean layers of any of the other cloud types: cirrostratus or stratocumulous, for example.


Learn More

For a cloud wheel template, visit the National Weather Service at www.srh.noaa.gov/jetstream/ synoptic/ll_clouds1.htm.

For kid-friendly websites about clouds and weather visit “Web Weather for Kids” at www.eo.ucar.edu/webweather/cloudhome.html or “Weather Wiz Kids” at www.weatherwizkids.com/weather-clouds.htm.

For complete directions and pictures of a cloud mobile, visit www.ohdeedoh.com, keyword clouds.