Solar energy has always been a part of life on Earth. It all started with plants turning sunlight into food, and humans have also found ways to harness its power for millennia. That makes solar the perfect vehicle for scientific exploration with the kids, and summer is the perfect season to try solar projects for kids at home.

Cool solar power facts your kids should know

* Solar is one of the cheapest sources of renewable energy — as long as the sun shines, we have an energy source.

* There are two kinds of solar energy, passive solar and active solar.

* Active solar uses mechanical and electrical equipment to generate more heat or electricity. A great example of this is the photovoltaic panels you might see on top of someone’s house, or the small panel found in a solar-powered plaything.

* Passive solar uses simple sunshine to boost warmth. Back in the old days, houses were angled to face the sun, so home dwellers could maximize warmth from the sun’s rays as they shone through the windows. Sometimes, you can take passive solar design a step further, such as a trombe wall, which is a wall of dark-colored material designed to soak up the sun’s heat. Then, at night, the trapped heat releases, keeping the room nice and warm.

* The International Space Station uses solar panels to generate power.

* Researchers think carbon-free electricity is possible by the year 2050, using technology that already exists, including solar.

4 solar projects you can try at home

Now that you know fun facts about solar energy, here are some fun solar projects for kids that are easy to set up at home.

Sun cooking: Ever have one of those blistering hot days when it felt hot enough to cook an egg on the sidewalk? Instead, build your own sun-powered oven that can cook pizza, a hot dog or nachos with cheese. Spend the morning building this solar cooker based on a teacher’s classroom lesson. (The video really simplifies things.) When lunch time rolls around, you can get cooking. Two birds with one stone! Bonus: Build a DIY solar-powered food dehydrator, and turn those garden tomatoes into sun-dried tomatoes.

Sun painting: After your next nature hike, you can turn found objects like leaves, pine boughs, feathers and flowers into one-of-a-kind, nature-designed apparel, complete with a sun-powered transformation. Paint a T-shirt, tote bag or pillow case with light-sensitive paints, and then lay the garment in the sun and arrange your natural objects right on top. As the paint dries, it reacts with the sun, so it appears to “stamp” a silhouette of the object right on the item.

Water heating: This plays out in backyards across America. Mom and Dad fill up the wading pool, kids run outside to go swimming and … the water is ice cold! This blog has a simple experiment to help you and the kids come up with solutions to raise the water’s temperature with sun power.

Light effects: Here’s a fun project ideal for preschoolers (and older kids can lend a helping hand). Demonstrate how sunlight reflects and refracts light with a few simple things you’ll find around the house: water-filled plastic bottles, food coloring, a cardboard box and some tinfoil. They’ll be fascinated by the homemade light show.

These solar projects are just one way to help kids get interested in their natural world. For more hands-on fun that kids are sure to love, be sure and check out some of our upcoming Bricks 4 Kidz programmes taking place right in your community.