Wind Whirlers: Building a Paper Cup Anemometer for Preschool Explorers!

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We live in Tornado Alley, and with that comes a lot of talk about tornadoes and wind. What better way to talk about wind than to build a DIY paper cup anemometer?

A simple and fun experiment that can be done at home is building a paper cup anemometer. This experiment teaches kids about wind speed and how it is measured.

Building a paper cup anemometer is a simple yet effective way to introduce your child to engineering concepts. By building the anemometer and taking it outside on a windy day, kids can learn about how wind speed is measured and how engineers use tools like the anemometer to solve real-world problems.

Wind Whirlers paper cup anemometer engineering experiment for kids

How to make the Wind Whirlers engineering experiment

Supplies you will need

For this experiment, you will need the following:

Supplies needed for the Wind Whirlers paper cup anemometer engineering experiment

Before you start

Watch your child’s fingers with the hole punch, since it could hurt them.


Here is how to do the Wind Whirlers experiment with your toddler:

Step 1: Punch two holes in each paper cup

Using a hole punch to cut two holes across from one another, just below the rim of the cup

Up near the rim of the cup, punch a hole in your paper cup. I made mine about half an inch down from the rim.

Then, punch another hole directly across that first hole.

Your straw will go through one hole, the cup, and the other hole in one straight line.

Repeat this step for the other three cups.

Get your preschooler involved: As long as no fingers get pinched, this is a step your child can help you with! You can line up the hole punch to the right spot and let them squeeze the device to create the hole.

Step 2: Insert a straw through two of the cups

Placing the straw through one of the cups

Using one straw, run it through the two holes of one of your cups, leaving the cup near the edge of the straw.

Take another cup and add it to the other side of the straw.

Repeat this step for the other two cups and one straw.

Step 3: Cross the two straws and bind them

Using a paper clip to pierce a hole in the straw

Cross the two straws near the middle (you’ll start to see your anemometer coming together here!).

Open one end of your paper clip and pierce through the cross-section of the two straws. Keeping the hole lined up, use your pushpin to pierce the hole you made, which will keep your straws crossed.

Why did we pierce a hole first?

We want to remove as much friction as possible so the anemometer can freely spin. If the hole is only as big as the pushpin, there will be more friction and resistance. So, we made a hole with the paper clip first (it’s bigger than the pushpin).

Step 4: Push your pushpin into the pencil eraser

Binding the straws to the pencil using a pushpin

Now, we’re going to add our straws and paper cups to the top of the pencil, completing our anemometer!

Using the pushpin that you already pushed through the straws, push it through the pencil eraser as well.

This will create a base for our anemometer.

Step 5 (optional): Use tape to secure cups and color

Optional, but we placed tape on the cups and straws to secure them in place

This step is optional, but I found it useful.

I used tape to secure the cups in the position I wanted them in (otherwise they have a tendency to not stay in place along the straws).

Optional, but we placed tape on the cups and straws to secure them in place

I also decided to color the bottom of one of the cups to see how fast the wind was moving.

Optional- we colored the bottom of one of the cups to measure wind speed

Step 6 (optional): Place the anemometer into a base

We placed our anemometer on a fence post so it sat higher up

You could hold the anemometer outside and watch it catch the wind and spin, or you could find a base for your anemometer to stand in. Either way is going to work fine!

I’ve seen others push the pencil into Play-Doh, clip it to a table, or find a structure to hold the pencil (like an outdoor swing set). We decided to place ours in a fence post so it was high enough above the ground.

My only recommendation is to not place your anemometer near the ground, since there will be less wind down there. You’ll want to place it up higher, where there is less to get in the way of the wind.

The engineering behind the Wind Whirlers engineering experiment

This experiment teaches:

  • Basic engineering principles
  • Understanding wind speed
  • Problem-solving skills

How it works

The paper cup anemometer works by using the cups to catch the wind. As the wind blows, it spins the cups around, and the speed at which they spin is directly related to the speed of the wind.

Engineers use anemometers like this to measure wind. They need to know how strong the wind is for things like building strong houses or making windmills work.

Our anemometer helps us learn a little bit about what engineers do and how they use tools to solve problems.

Basic engineering principles

Kids can learn about engineering concepts by building the anemometer with simple materials.

They can explore the different parts of the anemometer and how they work together to measure wind speed.

Understanding wind speed

The spinning cups on the anemometer demonstrate how wind moves and changes direction.

We use paper cups and straws to make the anemometer. The cups catch the wind, just like when we blow on them. When the wind blows, it makes the cups spin around. The straws hold the cups and let them spin freely.

If you want to take it a step further, you could color one of the paper cups and count how many times it spins around the anemometer in a specific amount of time. This will help you calculate the wind speed!

Problem-solving skills

As we build the anemometer, we may encounter challenges or obstacles that we need to overcome.

Kids can practice problem-solving skills by figuring out how to attach the cups to the straws, ensuring the anemometer can spin freely, and even finding a solid base so the anemometer doesn’t fall over.

More outdoor engineering experiments to try out with your child

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