Do you know 1,461 people? If you do, chances are you have a friend with a Leap Year birthday! And if you didn’t before, now you do! ?
Yes, I am a “Leapling” and this Saturday I will be 11 years old (my daughter always gets annoyed when I say that, lol).
Kids have so many questions when they find out about Leap Year! Here are a few FAQs and tips for teaching about it while having fun.
What is Leap Year?
Sooo, long story short, an Earth’s orbit around the Sun actually takes 365 days and 6 hours. Instead of having a 6-hour day (there aren’t enough hours as it is!), we “save up” those extra hours for 4 years, hence Leap Day, hence Leap Year.
Explaining this to kids is a little more complex, but try this fun activity with your students to teach them about the Earth’s daily rotation and yearly orbit.
Role-Playing the Earth’s Orbit
- Have kids sit in a circle, leaving the middle empty.
- Invite 2 kids to play the Sun and Earth: The Sun stands in the middle and Earth off to its side. Place a sticker on the floor where the Earth stands.
- Explain that it takes 1 day for the Earth to spin 1 time and spin the Earth child in his/her place. (Have the Sun child hold a flashlight towards the Earth to show daytime and nighttime)
- Then, explain that it takes 1 year for the Earth to orbit the Sun and have the Earth child walk around the Sun child.
- Then, remind kids that the Earth does both at the same time so have the Earth spin as he/she goes around the Sun (super fun, but watch out for dizzy kids)!
Now that they understand the Earth’s orbit, explain that it actually takes a year and a few hours for the Earth to complete its orbit.
Since a few hours is not a full day, and we can’t just have part of a day (“Don’t let’th be thilly!” as the Mad Hatter would say), we put these hours into a “bank” (draw a piggy bank on the board and relate it to saving money).
Make a paper circle to represent 1 day and cut it into 4 pieces. Then, help the Earth child rotate around the Sun (1 year), stopping just short of a full rotation (remember the sticker?) and tape 1/4 of the circle to the piggy bank.
I repeat this 3 times, each time stopping just a bit farther from the sticker and taping another circle piece to the bank.
When the circle is complete, we take it out of the bank and have an extra day! Have the Earth student LEAP up to the sticker to catch up with the new year!
To help you with this activity, I made a freebie with headbands for your students to wear while role-playing.
I also created a book that illustrates this and you can find it in my Leap Year pack. You can display the large color version on your interactive whiteboard to read to the class and have them reread and color in their own mini versions.
More Leap Year Questions
Another question I get is if only 1 in a million people have that birthday. NOPE! Actually, it’s 1 in 1,461 (365 x 4 + 1).
People usually think this is an awful birthday to have, but here are some reasons it’s actually a great birth date!
- You get birthday wishes on TWO days! (In fact, my brother always texts me “Happy” on February 28th and “Birthday” on March 1st.)
- You can say you’re younger than you are.
- You can drive at 4 years old.
- Your students get a real kick out of it and, in K and 1st grade, their attempts at figuring out your real age are so funny!
And, the #1 question is, “So when do you celebrate it when there’s no February 29th?”
My husband always debates me on this, but I think since it’s my birthday, my answer wins, right? ?? His argument is that I don’t fully age a year until March 1st, but I say my birthday is on the last day of February! #mybirthdaymyrule
I never reveal my opinion to my students until after they do the following writing activity! I have them write their own opinions first, then make a class graph to see what most people think.
If you need resources for Leap Year, my pack also includes differentiated mini-books, posters and fun activities to celebrate! Here is a peek into the Leap Year pack contents.
To grab all of the books and Leap Year activities for just $4, click here: Leap Year Pack
Here’s a quick video I found on YouTube that may also help your kids understand.
By the way, here’s a lesser-known Leap Year fact: It’s skipped 3 out of 4 centuries.
Why? Listen up, because Imma ’bout to get really nerdy in here. Earlier I mentioned we have an extra 6 hours every year. To be precise, it’s actually 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds. That means we actually owe back 11 minutes and 14 seconds every year.
After many years, this adds up! So, we skip it on century years unless it’s divisible by 4. The year 2000 was a Leap Year, but if I live to be 124 years old, I’ll be out a birthday for an additional 4 years!
GET YOUR FREE Leap Year Headbands below.
Any fellow leaplings out there? Reply and let me know!