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How Fast Can You Rotate? Teaching Your Toddler About Tornados

“Mommy, watch me spin!” This has become a common refrain at my house. At first, all I could think about was the inevitable crashing into the furniture that would surely be followed by tears. But there is no stopping this spinning top. So if my little science tyke is going to spin like the winds of a tornado, it’s time to teach her about them.

Children are fascinated by extremes, including extreme weather. Tornadoes are columns of air that rotate at high speeds, starting in the sky at the base of a thunderstorm and reaching down to the ground. They are classified by an estimate of their wind speed based on how much damage they cause. Scientists use the Enhanced Fujita Scale, or EF Scale, which goes from 1-5. The faster the wind speed, the more damage caused and the higher the rating.

Enter the Tornado Tee. Tell your tyke that scientists classify or group tornadoes so that they can compare them and understand them better. Announce that an EF1 tornado blows slower (65-85 mph) while you spin slowly. Start to spin faster and faster as you count up to EF5 (>200 mph), the fastest tornado on the scale! Spin at a very slow rate and ask your tyke if you are spinning like an EF1 or and EF5. Ask your tyke to spin and give them a rating as well!

My tyke loves to wear her shirt and tell me what speed she’s spinning at. Doing so reinforces her understanding not only of how tornadoes are classified, but of how classification groups things with similar characteristics, a key science skill.

Take the learning further and make a model of a tornado together. Take a plastic bottle, fill it 2/3 full with water, and add coloring such as food dye or dish soap. Put the cap on, turn the bottle upside down, hold it by the neck, and quickly spin the bottle in a circular motion. Discuss the speed of the tornado with your tyke and try creating tornadoes from an EF1 to EF5!

The Tornado Tee reminds my science tyke of her new knowledge every time she wears it and provides an opportunity to share what she knows when people ask her about her shirt. Check it out!

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