Hot summer days are ideal for this fun kids’ science activity: making a solar oven pizza! Teaching your child how to build a solar oven requires a ton of glueing, but the result is worth every minute of prep.
Little scientists and pizza fans will beg, “More please!” as they learn about solar power in this awesome kids science project. After you’ve enjoyed your pizza, check out our amazing 30 Science Experiments to keep the science going!
How to Make a Solar Oven
I wanted to cook a pizza with my kids but you could cook almost anything – s’mores, eggs, hot dogs… This kids science activity is really versatile.
I grabbed my pizza supplies and the materials I needed for our solar oven:
- 2 nesting cardboard boxes (The smallest one should be big enough to fit your food but not too big that it won’t heat up.)
- Black construction paper
- Glue sticks (We used 3.)
- Box cutter or small serrated knife (Not shown)
- Plastic Wrap
- Newspaper, packing peanuts, or Styrofoam packing material to insulate your oven
- An oven thermometer (Optional but fun)
To make the oven , I grabbed the smaller of the two boxes and taped it closed using packing tape. Then, to make the window for the sunlight to enter, I cut around the top of the box leaving about an inch border using a serrated knife.
Next, I cut around three sides of the box, one inch down from the top, to make a hinged lid for the oven. Now that I was ready for my daughter to help, I called her over and explained that we needed to line the inside with black construction paper. Of course the first thing she said was, “Why?” So as I handed her the glue stick and the paper, we talked about how different colors absorb heat differently. Black paper absorbs the most heat, which is what we want if we want to cook.
After the box was lined, we turned our attention to the larger box. I tore off a piece of foil and slowly moved it back and forth reflecting the light onto the table and wall. I asked A if she noticed anything about the foil.
“It’s shiny and crinkly,” she said.
“Exactly, it’s shiny and reflects light,” I replied. “More light means more heat in our oven.”
I handed her another glue stick and asked her to cover the top flaps so we could glue foil on them to help reflect more sunlight into our oven.
We worked our way around the box, gluing and smoothing the foil over each flap then taping the foil down on the back (outside) of each flap.
Once all the gluing was done, it was time to add the plastic wrap window. The plastic wrap needed to be as smooth and taut as possible, so this step was better done by a grown-up.
Finally, to really help our oven get hot, we decided to insulate it. This step is optional, but since I wanted to really cook food (not just melt something) and we happened to have Styrofoam sheets from a package, we thought we would insulate. If you don’t have Styrofoam sheets on hand, newspaper works well as insulation too. I had my daughter place the smaller oven box into the larger box then fill the sides with the insulation.
“What is insulation?” A asked. I explained that insulating means to stop something, like our oven, from losing heat by using a material like the Styrofoam. We talked about how a coat insulates her in the winter and her lunch box has a insulating material in it to keep her food warm.
Cooking with a Solar Oven
Now we were ready to cook! Just a note, the best time to cook with a solar oven is when the sun is at its highest around 11 am to 2pm. We constructed ours so we could start cooking at 11 am and it was a good thing because it took over an hour to get the crust crispy!
A rolled and tossed the pizza dough until it was nice and thin. Then, she placed it on a little pan coated with olive oil. We put the crusts in the oven, closed the lid and placed it in our backyard’s sunniest spot to cook. I used tape to help angle the foil flaps and reflect the most light into the oven.
We checked the crusts every 20 minutes or so, flipping them over after about 40 minutes. Finally after an hour and 15 minutes, the crusts were almost crispy and I headed inside with a very excited A to add the toppings.
I did end up cooking the crusts for about 5 minutes in a regular oven just to make sure the insides were fully cooked – mostly because I hate undercooked pizza dough. After adding her toppings, we placed the pizzas back in the solar oven for another 30 minutes so the cheese was melted and gooey. My hungry daughter scarfed down her first piece and then declared, “Cooking with the sun is the best! I want to to cook everything outside!!”
The Science Behind It
The sun’s rays have a lot of energy in them. When they strike an object, all of that energy causes the molecules in the object to vibrate. The molecules get excited and jump around. All of this jumping around causes heat. The solar oven works by trapping in the heat created when the sunlight strikes the black paper bottom. As more sunlight enters the box, the molecules in the paper get more excited and generate more heat to cook the food.
Even More Kids’ Science
Check out our 30 Science Experiments just for kids! They’re so fun, your kids will beg to repeat them!