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They see a kite; we see a discovery opportunity

As the outdoors beckon, experiment with making your own old-fashioned flier using this guide from Assistant Professor Sophia Jeong.

young girl in swimsuit flying a red kite on the beach

(Getty Images)

As a child of about 9, Sophia Jeong had a school assignment to build and fly a kite. She bought a kit and took it outside in her rural South Korean neighborhood.

“This elderly farmer who lived in my community came up and said something along the lines of, ‘Kids these days don’t know how to make a proper kite,’” says Jeong, now an assistant professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning. The farmer sent her home for newspaper and some cooked sticky rice, and then he demonstrated how to squish the rice in tiny balls along the bamboo frame to bind it to the newspaper sail.

“I teach science methods for K–12 science teachers,” Jeong says. “I always do an activity where I ask pre-service teachers to think back to a really memorable experience in their lives that is related to learning about science. I think back to this kite-making experience. I can remember the windy day. I remember running back to my house to ask for rice and my mom giving me a quizzical look and then letting me run off and make a kite.”

Building a kite is what Jeong and other educators call an anchoring phenomenon. “You engage children first in authentic inquiry through meaningful and interesting things,” she says. That curiosity leads to discovery, which leads to learning, and the process repeats and expands. Think what an afternoon spent building a kite could launch.

Use the guide here as a starting point to explore and discover what works for making your own unique kite. Happy flying!

diagram of a kite with 4 callouts

(Getty Images)

1. Kite sail

Make it with paper, fabric or another lightweight material. Balance lightness with sturdiness. Give it an aerodynamic shape. Think: What do flying animals and objects look like? Hint: Symmetry is key.

2. Cross spar and spine

Make the frame from a material that balances strength and flexibility. Consider how you will attach these braces to the kite sail.

3. Bridle and line

Some suggested materials are embroidery floss, string, yarn and Dacron fishing line. Consider the placement of the bridle attachments along the spine. Nailing the placement will make the kite more stable. If your kite pitches or rolls in flight, try adjusting the bridle position.

4. Tail

Not just for decoration! The tail affects drag, tension and lift. Start long and trim as you experiment with flying the kite. The tail can be made of one or multiple pieces of material. It may or may not include ties or bows along its length.



As we discovered in Jeong’s story, most of the fun of flying a kite is in the wonder, curiosity and courage it takes to make something from nothing and thrust it into the air. Rather than a prescription for how to make a kite, here are suggestions from Jeong and a few we discovered. We wish you a fun journey of discovery and investigation!


Start your materials search at home. Be creative and see what you can repurpose, rather than venturing out to buy a bunch of new stuff.

Sail: You can try newspaper, like Jeong did. The National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) suggests lightweight plastic grocery bags, 13-gallon kitchen trash bags or cellophane wrap. Mylar and Tyvek (think disposable coveralls) are other possible materials. Each one has advantages and disadvantages.

Line: Crochet thread, embroidery thread, string, Dacron (not stretchy!) fishing line

Cross spar and spine: The NSTA lesson suggests drinking straws. You also can use thin dowels or, like Jeong, bamboo garden or plant supports. This might be a good time to ask a crafter to dig through their stash.

Shape up

Look at other flying or speedy objects, like airplanes, birds and aerodynamic cars. What are their forms and outlines? How can they inspire the shapes and curves of your kite? Need more guidance? Search online for templates. You can find many to choose from.

Invite Bernoulli and Newton to the park

When you take the kite out, you’ll be observing in real time the four forces that cause flight: lift, thrust, weight and drag. And you’ll see how Sir Isaac Newton’s laws of motion paved the way for Daniel Bernoulli (1700–1782) to develop the principle of fluid dynamics that bears his name and relates to lift. NASA has a terrific “Museum in a Box” online lesson on the role of these two scientists in the early discoveries that led to human flight — discoveries you can witness in play with your kite.

Crowdsource your kite

Kites have a way of attracting other people. Just as Jeong’s childhood efforts inspired a neighbor to lend his know-how, you may find passersby offering their advice to your experiment. It’s more than building friendships — it’s research and development! Tap into this sense of community on your block, or attend one of many kite festivals across the country. Search online for one near you.

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