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Clouds for Kids

Science Project: Clouds for Kids
A thunderstorm grows over Texas.
Image courtesy Forrest M. Mims III.
Web Id: P1
Purpose: Kids as young as 6 can learn much about weather and climate simply by observing clouds. And they can have fun while doing so.
Age Range: 6-10
Time Required: Young children can observe and report on clouds in only a few minutes a day, but to get a good feel for the different types it is best to continue observations for a month or more.

Kids are natural sky watchers. They are especially curious about clouds. When a cloud shaped like a horse or a dinosaur floats by, the first ones to notice will be kids, not adults! And they will happily point out the phenomenon to anyone nearby.

Because kids are already interested in clouds, it’s only natural for them to want to study them. They can get started by learning these basic facts:

1. Low clouds (like fog and cumulus) are made from countless tiny droplets of liquid water.

2. High clouds (cirrus) are composed of tiny ice crystals.

3. Fluffy cumulus clouds (the ones that resemble popcorn or cotton balls) usually signal fair weather. But, when conditions are right, they can grow into huge thunderstorms capable of producing hail, powerful wind, and even tornadoes.

4. Clouds that block the sun and create shade during the day can cause cool weather.

5. High cirrus clouds at night act like a blanket that traps the Earth’s heat and keep the Earth warmer than when the sky is clear.


Kids already know that certain clouds are associated with specific kinds of weather. But they probably do not know that clouds play a huge role in determining the Earth’s climate. Even young children can and should learn to identify clouds. It’s a skill that will stay with them the rest of their lives.

Real Time Data Source:

MODIS Rapid Response System

In the Live Access Server: Datasets: Atmosphere: Clouds: Cloud Coverage. Historical data on Monthly Cloud Coverage for a variety of cloud types is available from ISCCP.
Project Ideas:

1. Cloud Names. Young students should learn the names of the major kinds of clouds. Even very young students can learn the difference between fluffy cumulus clouds and streaming cirrus clouds. Children can learn the names of clouds very quickly, especially with the help of the S’COOL Cloud Chart. This chart is available in English, Spanish, French, German and Italian. You might want to consider making flash cards by printing images of clouds from the chart or using your own cloud photographs.

2. Cloud Calendar. After young students know the names of clouds, they are ready to make a Cloud Calendar. They can use a pocket notebook or a calendar with plenty of white space for each day. If a notebook is used, the student should print the day, month and year at the top of each page. The student should print the names of the clouds in the sky at mid-morning or noon (preferably the same time each day) or make a small drawing of the clouds. The student should also note events like rain, snow, hail and other weather events.

3. Contests. A great way to motivate young students to observe clouds is to have a contest for the highest number of different clouds that are observed.

4. Science Fairs. Young students who make a detailed Cloud Calendar for a month or more should be encouraged to enter their observations in a school science fair.
Analysis Ideas:

Learn to make weather forecasts based on the kinds of clouds that you observe. Keep track of your results.
Related Projects:

The CERES S’COOL Project offers a more formal way for school age children to be involved in cloud observation. The GLOBE program does as well.

1. Are there detectable changes (trends) in your cloud cover observations? What do they mean?

2. What kinds of clouds do you observe before and during rain and snow events?

3. Is there a connection between particular kinds of clouds and temperature or barometric pressure?
Going Further:

Advanced younger students may be able to advance to Science Project 2. Cloud Studies. These students may be especially interested in comparing the clouds they observe with what satellites see over their region.

Project ideas contributed by Forrest M. Mims III, Geronimo Creek Observatory, Texas