Make a rain gauge

‘Do not be angry with the rain; it simply does not know how to fall upwards.’ - Vladimir Nabokov

Although it’s cursed for ruining many a pleasant summer picnic, rain is a vital source of life. Measure the local rainfall with your child, and show this nurturing tonic some love and appreciation in the process.

  1. Start by having a conversation about the rain with your child. What purpose does rainfall serve? What happens in places where the rainfall is sparse?
  2. Help your child to cut the top off the plastic bottle.
  3. Together, place some pebbles in the bottom of the bottle. Talk to your child about why they think this step is important. The answer is that the base of plastic bottles are rarely flat. The pebbles will even out and flatten the surface, and their weight will help prevent the bottle from falling over in the wind or in heavy downpour.
  4. Next, turn the top half of the bottle into a funnel: remove the cap and turn the top half of the bottle upside down then place it within the bottom part of the bottle, with the top pointing downwards.
  5. Secure the funnel in place by lining up the cut edges and taping the two halves together.
  6. Next, you need to create your measuring line. Cut a long piece of duct tape, and place it on the side of the gauge. This should create a straight vertical line, running from the bottom of the bottle to the top.
  7. Take a marker and a ruler to draw a horizontal line just above the pebbles. This is the bottom of the gauge. Then, help your child to mark every half centimetre from the bottom to the top of the duct tape.
  8. Find a suitable spot to place the rain gauge. For an accurate reading, the spot should be open and away from trees or other obstructions. If you like, you can help your child dig a small hole for the gauge, so that the top of the bottle is sticking about 5cm out of the ground. This will further help to stop the gauge from falling over on windy days.
  9. Ask your child to check the rain gauge every day, ideally at the same time. Measure the amount of rain collected, empty the bottle, and start again.
  10. If you like, you can encourage your child to keep a log of the results. Older children can try turning the results into a basic graph.
  11. To add a creative element to this otherwise practical task, you could ask your child to write a short story about the rain, or even to write a thank you letter to the rain, explaining why it’s important and why they are glad that it’s here. You can use the fun facts about rain below to kickstart the process.
  12. Once you’re done measuring the rainfall, make sure you recycle the plastic bottle.


Fun facts about rain

  1. Although we tend to complain about the rain in the UK, it’s worshipped and highly valued in drier parts of the world. In Botswana, the Setswana word for rain is ‘pula’. The currency in Botswana is also named ‘pula’ in acknowledgment of the economic significance of rain in a nation where so little falls. Talk to your child about this. How might the amount of rainfall affect a country’s economy? What might happen to livestock and crops, for example, if there isn’t enough rain?
  2. Rain doesn’t always make the ground wet. In fact, in very dry, hot places, rain sometimes evaporates before it hits the ground. Environmentalist Edward Abbey describes ‘phantom rain’ this way, explaining how painful it can be when rain is sparse: ‘You see curtains of rain dangling in the sky while the living things wither below for want of water.’ he says, ‘It’s torture by tantalizing hope without fulfillment.’. Talk about this quote with your child. What does it mean?
  3. The shape and colour of the clouds can help you predict when rain is due. Generally speaking, if you see a cumulonimbus cloud, a tall, puffy cloud that looks flat at the top, or a nimbostratus cloud, a flat low-level gray cloud, you can be fairly certain that rain is in the 24-hour forecast. Why not keep an eye out for these clouds together, and see if the rain soon follows?