Teach Kids About Weather and Natural Disasters

The classic children’s natural disasters activity is the erupting volcano, made with clay or paper and a chemical reaction. There’s a little educational value to this, and of course it’s fun, but there are many better activities about natural disasters and weather that you can do with kids. For example, you can create a water cycle inside a bowl, make your own anemometer, study the way magma moves through layers of earth, or make your own shake table. One side-step we took here was to talk about perspective while studying clouds. Especially with younger children, it’s a good opportunity to discuss how people can have different opinions and can see different things in a situation depending on their life experiences.

What Kids Will Do

In these explorations, kids might…

  • build a mini water cycle
  • create a cloud in a jar
  • build an anemometer
  • make a tornado in a bottle
  • construct an earthquake shake table
  • explore how magma moves through rock
  • make an erupting volcano
  • and more

(Designed for preschool and early elementary students, but many of the assignments and materials may be of interest to older children and adults, too!)

Read On

  • The Cloud Collector’s Handbook, Gaven Pretor-Pinney [Amazon | Bookshop] — A delight for adults or kids, this pleasingly small workbook features thorough descriptions and photographs for many, many cloud types, as well as sub-varieties of each of these, and optical effects. It invites the reader to note down which clouds they’ve seen (to collect points — rarer clouds score you more points). You could use this religiously, or you could use it as a handy guidebook and an inspiration to look up at the sky more often. Easy to use and often funny, too. 
  • A Cloud a Day, Gavin Pretor-Pinney [Amazon | Bookshop] — From the wonderful Cloud Appreciation Society, a beautiful book filled with pictures of fascinating clouds, including clouds on other planets and cloud art, too. You might enjoy pictures of a “rain square” (not a rainbow) or a breakdancing cloud. Plenty to look through and read about.
  • My Very First Our World Book, Usborne [Amazon | Usborne] — These Usborne “My Very First” books explain basic concepts in very simple terms and are excellent for preschoolers especially. This one has some weather and natural disaster content (“wild weather,” volcanoes, and earthquakes), but it has lots of other information, too, about the planet, habitats, and cities. 
  • The Ultimate Book of Planet Earth, Anne-Sophie Baumann and Didier Balicevic [Amazon | Bookshop] — This book about Earth is more complex than the Usborne My Very First title, so it’s better for kindergarten+, though many preschoolers will also be fascinated by the flaps and pop-ups. The book has very informative pages about the Earth’s core, tectonic shifts, volcanoes, climate, natural resources, and more. There’s a fold-out timeline of life on Earth, and the pop-up volcano and towering cloud pop-up are stand-outs — really impressive.
  • The Street Beneath My Feet, Charlotte Guillain and Yuval Zommer [Amazon | Bookshop] — Like its companion, The Skies Above My Eyes, this book folds out into a huge, double-sided strip, beautifully illustrated to show what’s underneath our streets and fields. It’s all helpfully labeled and described, a piece of art you could spend ages studying.
  • Peter Spier’s Rain, Peter Spier [Amazon] — Although sadly out of print, this wordless book is one of the greatest celebrations of rain and the adventures it brings to children. If you can find a copy or check it out from your library, it’s an inspired, joyful, fascinating book.
  • Thunder Rose, Jerdine Nolan and Kadir Nelson [Amazon | Bookshop] — A new addition to American tall tales, set in the Old West, where formerly enslaved families have settled after the Civil War. Brave, strong, and resourceful Thunder Rose has astonishing powers over lightning and hurricanes (and a way with metal, too).
  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, William Kamkwamba, Bryan Mealer, and Elizabeth Zunon [Amazon] — The wonderful true story of William Kamkwamba, who taught himself about windmills to bring light and water to his farming village in Malawi — all when he was still a child. A brilliant story about creative thinking.
  • Kenta and the Big Wave, Ruth Ohi [Amazon | Bookshop] — A short and simple picture book that nevertheless conveys the awe-inspiring power of a tsunami and the small acts we can all perform to help repair the damage and heartbreak these disasters cause. Kenta’s soccer ball is washed away during the tsunami and ends up on the coast of another country. Luckily, since he’d written his address on the ball, it can be sent back to him… 

Pop-Up Volcano!, Fleur Daugey, Bernard Duisit, Tom Vaillant [Amazon | Bookshop] — A breathtakingly stunning pop-up book all about volcanoes, with five spectacular pop-ups. The design is beautiful, highlighted with a neon, magma-like orange throughout. But aside from being visually impressive, it’s packed with information about volcanoes, too: historical volcanoes, the ways people coexist with volcanoes, legends, and volcanoes on other planets.

  • It Looked Like Spilt Milk, Charles G. Shaw [Amazon | Bookshop] — This classic picture book about cloud shapes, and the ways humans interpret them, is very simple but pairs well with A Cloud a Day by Gavin Pretor-Pinney (and with some of your own cloud-spotting, too).
  • They All Saw a Cat, Brendan Wenzel [Amazon | Bookshop] — Many animals are looking at the same cat, but each one sees it quite differently. How does a cat look to a mouse, to a dog, to a fish, to a bee…? Do we all see things the same way, and how do our feelings and desires color our perceptions?  The illustrations here are so creative and evocative — a wonderful book about perspective.
  • Duck! Rabbit!, Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld [Amazon | Bookshop] — Two speakers argue over the same ambiguous drawing. One is certain it’s a duck, and the other maintains it’s a rabbit. Even adding context to the drawing isn’t helping them resolve their differences! So which one is it…? A more humorous take on perspective than They All Saw a Cat.
  • Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots, Michael Rex [Amazon | Bookshop] — A much-needed and well executed picture book about the difference between facts and opinions. It’s properly fun and silly, and given that many adults struggle to differentiate between facts and opinions, it’s great to introduce these ideas early. And kids love this book, too.
  • Cloudette, Tom Lichtenheld [Amazon | Bookshop] — Cloudette is a wonderfully adorable book about a little cloud who longs to do big, important cloud jobs — but although the message is sweet and inspiring for little kids who want reassurance that their actions in the world can matter, the book has some good weather content, too. Kids who have studied clouds even a little bit will enjoy recognizing different types of clouds in the book (Cloudette is a cumulus cloud who wants to impress the “higher-ups”) and the types of things clouds can do. The book has plenty of good puns, and anyone reading aloud has lots of chances to try out good cloud voices. It’s a delightful story, excellently crafted and not too saccharine, either. It’s just right. 
  • Blue Floats Away, Travis Jonker and Grant Snider [Amazon | Bookshop] — A short and sweet picture book about an iceberg who floats away from his parents and experiences the whole water cycle. Terrific even for very young readers.
  • Sector 7, David Wiesner [Amazon | Bookshop] — In this extremely whimsical, wordless picture book, a boy befriends a cloud and makes a journey to the factory where clouds are given their shapes and assignments. Of course, strange things begin to happen. The adventure is surreal in the way that Wiesner’s books usually are, with beautiful, awe-inspiring illustrations.


  • The Cloud Appreciation Society — The Cloud Appreciation Society has loads of interesting cloud photos and some resources on clouds, too. You can also order its cloud identification wheel (but if you’re in the US, plan ahead, since it takes quite a long time to arrive, possibly several weeks to a month).
  • Learn About Weather from the Met Office — Informative videos from a weather authority. Many are a bit complex for the youngest learners, but these are helpful guides for learning about various weather phenomena.


Rain and Clouds

The Water Cycle

Read: “The Water Cycle,” The Ultimate Book of Planet Earth, Anne-Sophie Baumann and Didier Balicevic [Amazon | Bookshop]
Watch: Where Did Earth’s Water Come From?
The Water Cycle
The Largest River on Earth Is in the Sky

Activity: Water phases experiments
Whether or not you follow all the directions in this guide, it’s a useful step-by-step for how to investigate phase changes with water. Kids will feel ice cubes and heat them, and they’ll also pour liquid into cups of various sizes. These are really simple activities and might not seem impressive, but they’re wonderfully clear and quite interesting to children, too. The guide also recommends a snack that incorporates three states of matter: a root beer float.

Activity: Make a mini water cycle
Using a big bowl, a mug, and some plastic wrap, you can create a mini water cycle. Just put an empty mug in the middle of a big bowl containing some water, cover it in plastic wrap, and let it sit outside in the sun for while. You’ll have noticeable results within an hour. Full instructions here.


Watch: How Do Clouds Form? (captions only — can be narrated over)
Why Do Clouds Stay Up?

Look: Berndnaut Smilde works
Watch: Berndnaut Smilde — Making Clouds

Activity: Fog chamber
With these methods, you can create a brief, fleeting cloud in a jar. Don’t expect anything like the work of artist Berndnaut Smilde, but with the help of a flashlight especially, you’ll be able to see a faint cloud form in the jar. You can either use a rubber glove for this or a balloon. Both methods worked for us, but I might have a slight preference for the rubber glove method.

Types of Clouds
Read: “Clouds,” The Ultimate Book of Planet Earth, Anne-Sophie Baumann and Didier Balicevic [Amazon | Bookshop] or
NASA’s cloud identification guides
Watch: How Did Clouds Get Their Names?
How to Be a Cloud Detective
Look: See the world’s clouds (including clouds in your area) from satellites in real time

Look: The Cloud Collector’s Handbook, Gaven Pretor-Pinney [Amazon | Bookshop] and/or
A Cloud a Day, Gavin Pretor-Pinney [Amazon | Bookshop]

Read: Sector 7, David Wiesner [Amazon | Bookshop]

Watch: Exploring Clouds in Wing Suits

Watch: Karman vortices

Read: They All Saw a Cat, Brendan Wenzel [Amazon | Bookshop]
It Looked Like Spilt Milk, Charles G. Shaw [Amazon | Bookshop]
Duck! Rabbit!, Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld [Amazon | Bookshop]
(All three of these books explore perspective and interpretation. They All Saw a Cat doesn’t concern clouds but is a fascinating exploration of how we might not all see the same things the same way.)
Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots, Michael Rex [Amazon | Bookshop]

Activity: White paint and cotton ball clouds
Cotton balls can easily be manipulated to form many different types of cloud formations. Kids can experiment with that, and they can also make clouds by pressing spots of white acrylic paint between a folded sheet of construction paper.

Read: Cloudette, Tom Lichtenheld [Amazon | Bookshop]


Read: Peter Spier’s Rain, Peter Spier [Amazon]
Look: The Street Beneath My Feet, Charlotte Guillain and Yuval Zommer [Amazon | Bookshop] (to explore where rain goes after it soaks into the ground or flows into a drain)
Look: Where Do Raindrops End Up?
Select a location and travel downstream.

Storm videos
Watch: Chasing Storms in Colorado
Shadows in the Sky
Monsoon III

Activity: Make a rain stick
This particular set of instructions makes use of two spirals of foil, a technique that makes the rain sounds more impressive.

Watch: The Cambodian Myth of Thunder, Lightning, and Rain


Watch: How Does Lightning Form? (The video only has captions — you can narrate over this if necessary — and also includes a brief explanation of thunder. This video is quite complex for younger viewers, so it will require a fair amount of explanation.)
Strange Lightning Strikes — Caught on Camera and Explained

Watch: How The Burj Khalifa Is Dubai’s Lighting Rod

Activity: Make a thunder tube
Many instructions for thunder tubes involve paper towel rolls. These are not completely awful, and kids might appreciate them, but if you really want the sound of thunder, you’ve got to use PVC pipes and springs. If you can’t get to a hardware store, finding the right sort of spring can be tricky (the 1 x 16 x 305mm one here worked for me). Full instructions here. Alternatively, a large sheet of poster board, when held from the top and wiggled, makes a great thunder sound, too.

Listen: Rain and thunder songs


Watch: Why Does the Wind Blow?
What Causes the Wind to Blow? (Captions only — can be narrated over)

Wind Energy

Watch: How Do Wind Turbines Work?
Alliant Energy Whispering Willow Wind Farm 360-Degree Tour
If it’s of interest:
Wind Turbine Tour (climbing up inside of one)
1953 (living in and operating a polder mill)

Weather jobs
Climbing 300-Foot Wind Turbines for a Living

Read: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, William Kamkwamba, Bryan Mealer, and Elizabeth Zunon [Amazon]

Watch: The Physics Behind The Burj Khalifa And Why It Doesn’t Fall Over (in short: it confuses the wind)

Watch: Jim Cantore vs. Category 5 Winds

Activity: Build an anemometer
There are a few different ways to build an anemometer. I prefer this method, but with an alteration. Whereas the video suggests using plasticine, I found the only way to get the skewer to stay in was to use hot glue. Stick the skewer right through, then add a generous amount of hot glue to the top side (around the protruding skewer at the top). This way, it works like a charm. For instructions and suggestions about how to use your anemometer, go here.

Activity: Fly a kite!
Why not? Kids can measure the wind with their anemometer and see how well a kite does flying in it. Here’s a kite we’ve used and love.

Hurricanes and Tornadoes


Read: Thunder Rose, Jerdine Nolan and Kadir Nelson [Amazon | Bookshop]

Watch: Engines of Destruction: The Science of Hurricanes!
And/or Hurricanes 101

Weather jobs
Hurricane in a Box (about researchers who operate a tank that reproduces hurricane conditions)
Fly with Hurricane Hunters as They Measure the Power of a Storm
And/or Flying Into the Eye of Hurricane Harvey


Watch: Tornadoes 101
How Do Tornadoes Form? (An informative but rather technical video)
Vorticity (best tornado footage at about 4:50 to end)
Excellent tornado footage
Extreme close-up of a tornado

Activity: Tornado in a bottle
Using two soda bottles connected with a tornado tube (like this one), you can create a tornado in a bottle. Just get the water swirling inside and it’ll form. The bottles might leak a little bit, so be prepared with a tray or some towels.

Earthquakes, Tsunami, and Volcanoes

Earthquakes and Tsunami

Plate Tectonics
Read: “Movements of the Earth,” The Ultimate Book of Planet Earth, Anne-Sophie Baumann and Didier Balicevic [Amazon | Bookshop]
And/or “Earthquakes,” My Very First Our World Book, Usborne [Amazon | Usborne]
And/or The Science of Earthquakes (optional read, if you don’t have a book with information about earthquakes)

Activity: Earthquake demonstration
You can demonstrate the mechanics of an earthquake (and the ideas behind plate tectonics) with just pudding, graham crackers, and homemade Rice Krispies treats (homemade ones will be larger and not too thick, which you need for this). Full instructions here (I substituted pudding for the cheese, since with pudding the leftovers are still edible).

Watch: How Do We Know Plate Tectonics Is Real?
Magnitude 9.2: The 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake

Listen: Listen to earthquakes
Listen: Sonification of Tohoku Earthquake (2011)
Look: Seismic wave visualization of Tohoku earthquake

Watch: How Tsunamis Work
Video of the tsunami following the Tohoku earthquake

Read: Kenta and the Big Wave, Ruth Ohi [Amazon | Bookshop]

Look: Map of recent earthquakes
Some great earthquake trivia

Activity: Pasta quake
A simple demonstration to help kids visualize the power in various magnitudes of earthquakes. All you need is a packet of spaghetti. Full instructions here.

Activity: Build an earthquake shake table
Build an earthquake shake table with large rubber bands, two platforms (stiff cardboard or small sheets of plywood), and two tennis balls. Kids can construct a building and test it on the shake table to see if it withstands an earthquake. Although many instructions say to build the structures out of play dough or clay and rods, I recommend marshmallows and spaghetti. Spaghetti is a great building material because you can snap it easily to the lengths you need, and marshmallows are more adhesive than play dough. Even with those adjustments, younger kids may need a bit of help. I also recommend building the buildings on a piece of thin cardboard (like from food boxes), then transferring the whole thing to the shake table and anchoring it with the rubber bands. Full instructions here.

Listen: Earthquake Quartet #1

Listen: Music for Earthquakes, Computerchemist

Listen: Earthquake music


Read: “The Earth, Our Planet” and “Volcanoes,” The Ultimate Book of Planet Earth, Anne-Sophie Baumann and Didier Balicevic [Amazon | Bookshop]
Or “Volcanos,” My Very First Our World Book, Usborne [Amazon | Usborne] (best for very young children)
Pop-Up Volcano!, Fleur Daugey, Bernard Duisit, Tom Vaillant [Amazon | Bookshop]

Watch: Volcanoes 101
Mount St. Helens Disintegrates in Enormous Landslide
Iceland Volcano Eruption — 21.03.2021
Follow a Lava River’s Mesmerizing Path of Destruction
Hawaii’s Kīlauea Volcano
Approaching a lava lake (contains some explicit language used to express terror)

Weather jobs
Watch: Drones Sacrificed for Spectacular Volcano Video (scientist studying microbial life around volcanos)

Watch: More great volcano videos
One, two, three, and four.

Watch: 18 Days, 5 Minutes — Volcanic Eruptions in Geldingadalir and Fagradalsfjall Iceland — Time-Lapse
Stranded (aerial footage after a volcano erupted in Iceland)

Watch: Guatemala’s Volcanic Pizza Chef and His Lava Oven
Iceland Volcano Offers a Chance to Savor Hot Lava Dogs

Activity: Magma and solid rock experiment
Using gelatin cups, pudding, and syringes (like you get with some children’s medicine), explore how magma moves through solid rock. Full instructions and detailed explanations here.

Activity: Build a volcano
You can make one out of clay, or you can use paperboard and a bottle. (Everyone enjoys this, but as far as educational content goes, the other volcano experiments are far more useful.)

Activity and/or just watch: What Causes a Volcano to Erupt?

Listen: Volcano music

Read On, Grown-Ups

  • The Cloudspotter’s Guide: The Science, History, and Culture of Clouds, Gavin Pretor-Pinney [Amazon | Bookshop] — Pretor-Pinney’s infectiously and earnestly enthusiastic exploration of clouds was a surprise bestseller in the UK, and I can’t think of a better way to learn about clouds than through his books. It’s a relaxing, fascinating read.

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