How to Teach Children About the Spring Equinox {with Printable Unit Study}

The Spring or Vernal Equinox is coming up soon and it's a wonderful time to celebrate the start of spring with kids.

But just what is the Spring Equinox and how can you teach children about it in your class or homeschool?

Read on to find out what the Spring Equinox is, how to teach kids about it, how to celebrate it in your homeschool and how to mark the Vernal Equinox with children.

We love observing, marking and celebrating the turning of the seasons with festivals and events throughout the year and the Spring Equinox is one of our favourites.

Especially with brighter, warmer days, beautiful flowers and fun festivities to enjoy!

Let’s connect our children with their planet, combining science, nature and arts and crafts as we learn about and celebrate the Spring Equinox.

For more nature study ideas follow the Exploring Nature with Children curriculum.

What is the Spring Equinox?

The Spring Equinox, also known as the Vernal Equinox or Ostara, occurs when the sun crosses the celestial Equator, resulting in equal lengths of day and night.

The word equinox is derived from two Latin words - aequus (equal) and nox (night).

At noon at the Equator, the sun will be directly overhead at the Equinox and many latitudes will have approximately 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night on that day.

(Actually the daylight will be around 8 minutes longer, but it is just about equal.)

This astronomical event usually takes place on March 20th or 21st and marks the official beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, meaning we can look forward to the warm months ahead.

What is an Equinox?

As I said above, the word equinox is derived from two Latin words: aequus (equal) and nox (night).

So Equinox effectively means 'equality of night and day'.

When the spring and autumn equinoxes occur, at the Equator the sun will be directly overhead at noon.

The sun is located exactly above the equator twice a year, so there are two equinoxes each year.

The second equinox marks the beginning of autumn, and takes place around the 22nd September each year.

This equinox happens when the sun crosses the celestial equator going south.

So for people that live in the Southern Hemisphere, September marks the beginning of their springtime and the beginning of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere.

We talk about the equinox lasting an entire day, but actually it is just that brief moment when the sun is directly above the Equator.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the equilux (when the durations of light and darkness are excatly equal) actually occurs a few days before the Spring Equinox and a few days after the Autumn Equinox.

How to Teach Children About the Spring Equinox

The way the Sun, the Earth and our Moon move around in relation to one other gives us our day and night; our four seasons of spring, summer, autumn, and winter; and the cycle of the natural year.

As the Earth revolves around the Sun, we need to remember that the planet is tilted in relation to the Sun. It does not sit straight upright.

Explain to the children that the North Pole does not sit pointing upwards with the South Pole exactly at the bottom facing down, instead the Earth tilts to the side.

You can easily demonstrate this with balls if you do not have a solar system model.

This tilt is very important, because it means that at certain times of the year more of one part of the Earth is facing the sun than at other times.

As a result, different parts of Earth receive different amounts of sunlight throughout the year which is what causes the seasons to change.

So this tilt gives us our seasons.

In winter the northern part of Earth is titled away from the sun so we get the least hours of sunshine, giving us longer nights and the shortest day of the year.

It’s when people living in the northern part of Earth have winter.

By March, the Earth has moved further around the sun, and now the tilt means that the sun is facing right at the middle of the Earth.

As described above, an equinox occurs when the position of the Sun is exactly over the Equator, the imaginary line that runs around the centre of the Earth.

When this happens, the hours of daylight and the hours of darkness are about equal almost everywhere on Earth.

At this time the rays of the sun are shining on the northern and southern parts of the Earth equally.

This means we get about the same number of hours of day time and night time, approximately.

These equinoxes take place twice a year, in spring and autumn. The exact date and time of the equinox varies slightly from year to year because the length of a year is not precisely 365 days.

In March, between winter and summer, we call this time of year spring, and the day of the year when we have the most equal day and night is called the Spring Equinox.

After the Spring Equinox the tilt of the Earth means we will get more of the sun’s rays shining on our part of the world each day.

The days will get longer, and the nights will get shorter, all the way through to the longest day of the year at the Summer Solstice in June

People living in the southern hemisphere have their seasons at the opposite time of year to us, so when we are having spring, they are having autumn.

The Vernal Equinox marks the beginning of spring and a time of renewal.

After the vernal equinox, the days become longer and the nights become shorter.

The Spring Equinox occurs around March 21 in the Northern Hemisphere and around September 23 in the Southern Hemisphere.

Our Spring Equinox unit study goes into this in more detail:

Autumn or fall begins with the autumnal equinox, at a time of year when many crops are ready to be harvested.

Many people observe the equinox with feasting and celebrations of the harvest.

After the autumnal equinox, the days become shorter and the nights become longer.

The autumnal equinox occurs around September 23 in the Northern Hemisphere and around March 21 in the Southern Hemisphere.

Our Autumn Equinox unit study goes into this in more detail:

Or grab the entire Equinox and Solstice Bundle of unit studies.

That way you will be ready for not only the Spring Equinox, but also Summer Solstice, Winter Solstice and Fall Equinox.

Get it here:

How Do People Celebrate the Spring Equinox?

The spring equinox has been celebrated with festivals and rituals in many cultures throughout history. 

These celebrations often mark the beginning of a new year, the end of winter, and the arrival of spring.

Nowadays, people all around the world celebrate the Spring Equinox in a variety of ways, with different cultures having many different traditions.

1. Nowruz

The vernal equinox marks the start of a new year for people who live in Iran, Afghanistan, the Kurdish regions of Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and throughout Central Asia.

This Persian new year celebration, Nowruz, is a big religious holiday in the Zoroastrianism and Parsi'i religions.

For over 3,000 years Nowruz has been celebrated with bright colours, lit torches and two weeks of celebrations involving traditional foods and spending time with family and friends.

2. Ostara

The pagan name for the spring equinox is Ostara which comes from the Anglo-Saxon goddess name, Eostre.

Eostre represented spring and new beginnings, and as you can tell from the name and the associations, it readily became mixed up with the new Christian traditions.

Eostre was the goddess of fertility, for obvious reasons at this time of year!

3. Spring

In the Northern Hemisphere, the spring equinox marks the beginning of springtime, meaning longer days and the lead-up to the warmer, summer months.

After a cold and dark winter we all look forward to earlier sunrises, later sunsets and warmer, drier weather.

With warmer temperatures, springtime also traditionally sees the birth of baby birds and animals like chicks, ducks, lambs and bunnies and more flowers as plants burst into leaf, bud and flower.

The Spring Equinox may also be called the Vernal Equinox, as vernal is Latin for spring.

4. Shunbun no Hi

In Japan, Shunbun no Hi, the Japanese name for spring equinox day, is a public holiday.

Japanese people enjoy spending time with family and friends, and use this sacred day of the year to commune with nature.

They love to visist national parks and arrange elaborate picnics at famous cherry blossom viewing spots, sitting under the beautiful trees and enjoying delicious spring specialties.

Botamochi rice cakes are one of the special foods eaten at this time of year. 

These traditional spring equinox treats are rice cakes coated with sweet azuki bean paste, representing the botan (peonies) that are in season.

The rice cakes are also used as offerings at ancestors' graves and butsudan (household Buddhist altars) to pray for a good crop.

It is regarded as a very important day for farmers.

Historical Significance of the Spring Equinox

The spring equinox has been an important event for many cultures throughout history.

1. Agriculture

Spring, marked by the equinox, is a time of renewal and rebirth.

It's a time when crops are planted and the first plants which have been planted over winter are ready for reaping.

As we moved from the cold and barren winter towards spring, ancient peoples celebrated the new plants, the return of migrating animals and birds.

Farmers would begin to sow seed crops knowing there was less chance of frost which made it an important time for ensuring a successful harvest.

2. Astronomy

The spring equinox marks the moment when the tilt of the Earth’s axis is neither tilted away nor towards the sun, resulting in equal amounts of daylight and darkness.

This astronomical event was observed and studied by astronomers and scientists for thousands of years, and it helped to advance our understanding of the solar system and the universe.

For thousands of years, the spring equinox has been celebrated as a time of rebirth and abundance. 

Megalithic people in Europe calculated the date of the spring equinox using circular monuments constructed from huge stones like Stonehenge.

Some ancient civilizations placed stone pillars so that they were perfectly aligned at equinoxes and solstices, such as Newgrange in Ireland where a passageway is aligned so that sunlight reaches the chamber wall only on the winter solstice.

The Mayans gathered at the pyramid at Chichen Itza which was designed to produce a serpent shadow on the day of the equinox.

3. Easter

The Spring Equinox has long been celebrated as a time of rebirth and renewal in many religious traditions. 

For example, it is associated with the resurrection of Jesus Christ in Christianity and the festival of Passover in Judaism.

The pagan traditions of Ostara / Eostre were subsumed into the new religious festival of Easter.

The Ancient Saxons held a feast day for their version of the fertility goddess, Eostre, on the full moon following the Vernal Equinox.

In the church calendar, the date for Easter Sunday is calculated as the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the Spring Equinox.

We love connecting our girls with nature as much as possible and the Spring Equinox is an amazing time to reconnect with nature, the Earth and the seasons and rhythms of the year.

And it's a great way to mark the end of winter and the beginning of spring as we head towards the warmer, longer, brighter days of spring and summer.

If you would like some ideas for how to celebrate the Spring Equinox with kids check out our other articles about spring.

You may also like:

Note: This blog post may contain affiliate links, which means that if you make a purchase through these links, we may earn a small commission. Thank you for your understanding and support. Find out more about ads on our Disclosure page: All printable sales are final, due to the nature of digital products no refunds can be made.