Naturally Teaching

An elementary teacher science blog

A Helpful Introduction for Teachers Teaching the Four Seasons in School

Four different pictures of the same forest in the four different seasons.

Teaching the four seasons is tied to the Next Generation Science Standards in Kindergarten and 3rd grade. Both grades look at weather patterns over time which can be accomplished when teachers collect and analyze local weather data. When teaching the four seasons, topics to cover include how the seasons change, what happens with the sun, and how that affects plants and animals. Because the weather changes from season to season, it is important to collect weather data the entire school year.

What are the causes of the seasons?

Teaching the four seasons is easier said than done since it is an abstract concept for early childhood learners to study. So what causes the seasons on Earth? To break it down, teaching the four seasons can be accomplished by introducing these three things (depicted in the diagram below):

  1. The Earth’s invisible axis is tilted (approximately 23.5 degrees).
  2. There are different amounts of direct and indirect sunlight hitting the Earth due to the tilt. The temperatures and UV exposure of the hemispheres are determined by how direct or indirect the sun’s rays are.
  3. As the Earth orbits the sun, the tilt is always facing the same direction. This means that hemispheres experience different amounts of direct/indirect sunlight over the course of the year.

The more direct the sun’s rays, the hotter the temperature and more intense the UV rays are. Also, the more indirect the sun’s rays, the cooler the temperature and less intense the UV rays are. The change in direct and indirect rays makes the seasons. These changes can be felt in the weather as well as seen in the behavior of plants and animals.

(It is important to note that due to the spherical shape of the Earth, the equator experiences direct rays from the sun year-round so many of the countries along this latitude experience hot temperatures and intense UV rays all year. The opposite can be said of the North and South poles which experience indirect rays and cold temperatures year-round).

The sun warms the Earth depending on the amount of direct and indirect rays which influence the seasons.
The seasons are created due to the tilt of the Earth’s axis and its orbit around the sun. The seasons have their own unique weather patterns.

What causes the season fall?

The Earth is constantly spinning and the number of hours of day and night depend on the season. On the first day of fall, called the Fall or Autumnal Equinox, there is almost equal hours of day and night. This usually occurs around September 21st in the Northern Hemisphere and around March 21st in the Southern Hemisphere. Because the Earth has reached a point in its orbit around the sun where the Northern and Southern Hemispheres are neither tilted toward or away from the sun, the amount of day and night are nearly equal. The sun’s rays are also neither direct or indirect, causing mild temperatures. After a hot summer, fall brings the cooling of the land which signals to the active plants and animals to prepare for winter, a time of scarcity.

Signs of the fall season

Teaching the four seasons with a fall diagram.
  • Birds migrating to locations with food
  • Mammals hiding food or putting on fat for winter sleep
  • Reptiles and amphibians making their way under the frost line to sleep
  • Insects laying eggs, pupating, or finding places to rest for the winter
  • Pollinated flowers producing and spreading seeds
  • Trees preparing for their winter sleep by storing food in their roots and dropping their leaves
  • Weather becoming overcast with occasional snow showers
  • Temperatures changing from warm to cool

As the Earth continues on its orbit, both the intensity of the sun’s rays and the number of hours of daylight decreases. Looking for more ideas for teaching about fall? Check out the article “A Helpful Guide to Teaching About Fall in Elementary School”.

Insects, like this Giant Leopard moth caterpillar, spend the fall getting ready for winter.
This Giant Leopard moth caterpillar will stay in its larval stage in the leaves until spring.

Why do we have a winter season?

On the first day of winter, called the Winter Solstice, there are more hours of night than day. This usually occurs around December 21st in the Northern Hemisphere and around June 21st in the Southern Hemisphere. Because the Earth has reached a point in its orbit around the sun that a portion of it is tilted away from the sun, there are more hours of night than day. When the Northern Hemisphere is tilted away from the sun it is experiencing winter which means the Southern Hemisphere is tilted toward the sun and is experiencing summer, and vice versa. In winter, the sun’s rays are more indirect, causing cold temperatures. After a cool fall, winter brings extremely cold temperatures and the need for survival skills.

Signs of the winter season

Teaching the four seasons with a winter diagram.
  • Birds working tirelessly to find food to stay alive to the next day
  • Some mammals sleeping all winter surviving off of stored fat
  • Some animals changing color to blend in with their surroundings
  • Reptiles and amphibians sleeping
  • Insects and seeds waiting for warmer weather
  • Trees shutting down most systems and experiencing little to no growth
  • Weather becoming cloudy and snowy
  • Temperatures changing from cool to cold

As the Earth continues on its orbit, both the intensity of the sun rays and the number of hours of daylight increases.

Some animals, like this Snowshoe Hare, will change their color to better camouflage into their surroundings.
This Snowshoe Hare is brown for the majority of the year and changes to white for winter.

What happens during the spring season?

On the first day of spring, called the Spring or Vernal Equinox, there is almost equal hours of day and night. This usually occurs around March 21st in the Northern Hemisphere and around September 21st in the Southern Hemisphere. Because Earth has reached a point in its orbit again that the Northern and Southern Hemispheres are neither tilted toward or away from the sun, they both receive relatively equal amounts and intensities of sun rays. After a cold winter, spring brings the warming of the land which allows for sleeping plants and animals to emerge and prepare for summer, a time of abundance.

Signs of the spring season

Teaching the four seasons with a spring diagram.
  • Birds migrating north, making nests, and laying eggs
  • Mammals mating and beginning to raise their young
  • Insects emerging from eggs, the undergrowth, or pupa
  • Amphibians mating, laying eggs, and starting their life cycles
  • Seeds beginning to sprout
  • Trees awakening from their sleep and getting sap moving through their trunk
  • Weather becoming rainy and windy
  • Temperatures changing from cold to warm
  • Warmer temperatures melting the snow leaving vernal or temporary pools that animals use to raise their young

As the Earth continues on its orbit, both the intensity of the sun rays and the number of hours of daylight increases.

Frog eggs can be found in spring when the amphibians wake up from their dormancy, sing to find mates, and fertilize eggs in water.
These Wood frog eggs can be found in the spring in large masses in the water.

What is special about summer season?

Teaching the four seasons would not be complete without teaching about summer. Although most traditional school years don’t include the summer season, consider introducing summer and its signs. This could be done at the end of the school year in fun and engaging ways to round out your students’ weather pattern study.

On the first day of summer, called the Summer Solstice, there are more hours of day than night. This usually occurs around June 21st in the Northern Hemisphere and around December 21st in the Southern Hemisphere. Because the Earth has reached a point in its orbit around the sun that a portion of it is tilted toward the sun, there are more hours of day than night. When the Northern Hemisphere is titled toward the sun and is experiencing summer, the Southern Hemisphere is tilted away from the sun and is experiencing winter, and vice versa. What causes the summer to be the warmest season? In summer, the sun’s rays are more direct, causing hot temperatures. After a warm spring, summer brings heat and the opportunity to flourish.

Signs of the summer season

Teaching the four seasons with a summer diagram.
  • Animals raising their young (and sometimes having multiple sets of young)
  • Plants producing flowers that get pollinated by wind and animals
  • Plants using the direct sunlight to make their food through photosynthesis
  • Weather becoming sunny with clear skies
  • Temperatures changing from warm to hot

As the Earth continues on its orbit, both the intensity of the sun rays and the number of hours of daylight decreases.

Summer is a time for animals, like the bird that made this nest, to raise their young.
Some species of animals will spend all summer caring for one set of offspring while others will have multiple sets.

The cycle of the seasons continues as the Earth orbits the sun time and time again. Teaching the four seasons in your kindergarten or 3rd grade classroom will give your students a chance to study weather over the entire school year and find the weather patterns that occur in nature. This year-long study will fulfill the Next Generation Science Standards in the best way possible. Looking for a way to introduce seasonal signs to your students? Check out our seasonal resources to help you on your journey teaching the four seasons!

Teaching the four seasons
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