Benjamin Franklin was fascinated with lightning and wanted to prove it was caused by electricity. Legend tells us that he flew his famous kite in a thunderstorm on June 15, 1752. While he himself never documented the kite flying event, others wrote about it later.
Though Franklin’s fateful kite-flight may be the most famous in history, it was not the earliest. Kites were first documented in 6th-century China where they used silk stretched on bamboo frames to check the winds, measure distance, and send military signals. Soon paper kites appeared in China; some were for play, but mostly the kites were used for signaling. Kite-making quickly spread to India, Polynesia, and New Zealand. As each culture adapted the design to suit their local materials and use, kites gained tails, stabilizers, and decorations.
Between 1860 and 1910, kites were used worldwide in meteorology, photography, and even early wireless communication. The Wright brothers experimented with kites to help them design their first airplane. Others test man-lifting kites, leading to the modern hang-glider (not strictly a kite as it is not tethered or anchored to the ground).
Today, kites are just plain fun. The joy of making and playing with kites is still common in childhood, and even for many adults. And while kids may be having too much fun to realize it, kites can teach us a lot.
Building a good kite takes geometry and an understanding of the materials being used. Flying one requires learning when the wind is right and how to use stabilizers and tails. Hopefully, we are no longer teaching kids about electricity using kites, and we’re avoiding power lines and lightning storms!
Whether you make a kite or purchase one, take some time this week to go fly a kite with kids. You will be celebrating a long tradition, enjoying a spring day, and having fun. Check out some fun kite-making sites listed below.
(Kites pictured, from top to bottom, are from Germany, Australia, Panama, France, India, and Guatemala.)
How could you use a kite to play with, and teach, the kids in your life?
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Make your cheap kite and fly it, too, from Brokelyn.com
How to Make a Box Kite from MyBestKite.com
Newspaper Kites from PBS for Kids
How to Make a Mini Kite (for Kids) from WikiHow.com