“Leap year comes one year in four, and February has one day more.” February 29, also known as Leap Day, is an extra day that we get to enjoy this month. So let’s make good use of it!
What is Leap Day?
Leap days are needed to keep our calendar in alignment with the Earth’s revolutions around the Sun. Although the calendar year has 365 days, a complete revolution around the Sun (one solar year) takes approximately 365 days and 6 hours. An extra 24 hours thus accumulates every four years, requiring that an extra calendar day be added to align the calendar with the sun’s position. Without the extra day, fixed seasonal days like the first day of spring, summer, fall, and winter would be thrown off schedule. Over the course of a century, for example, instead of summer beginning in June, it wouldn’t start until July. So adding a leap day to the calendar allows it to catch up to the solar year.
However, there is another complication in that a solar year isn’t exactly 365 days and 6 hours. It’s slightly shorter than that. More precisely, the Earth completes its orbit around the Sun in 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, 45 seconds. To compensate for this, the calendar is further adjusted by making an exception to the general rule that there is a leap day every four years. Instead, a year divisible by 100 is not a leap year unless that year is also exactly divisible by 400. This means that the years 1600 and 2000 were leap years, while the years 1700, 1800, and 1900 were not leap years.
To put it simply, a year is a leap year if it is divisible by 4, but century years are NOT leap years unless they are divisible by 400.
Did You Know…?
The last Leap Day was on February 29, 2012. The next Leap Day will be February 29, 2020.
Leap Year Babies
A person who is born on February 29 may be called a “leapling” or a “leap-year baby.” In non-leap years, some leaplings celebrate their birthday on either February 28 or March 1, while others only observe their birthday on the actual date, February 29.
Famous leaplings include: Tony Robbins, motivational speaker and author; Seymour Papert, mathematician and computer scientist; Jimmy Dorsey, saxophonist and bandleader; and John Philip Holland, who invented the first modern submarine for the U.S. Navy.
Even more rare, Sir James Milne Wilson, who served as the 8th Premier of Tasmania, was born on Leap Day in 1812 and died on Leap Day in 1880.
Leap Year Traditions
According to folklore, in a leap year the weather always changes on Friday. And there is a popular custom in which a woman can propose marriage to a man on February 29th, instead of the other way around.
29 Things to Do on February 29
- Send a free Leap Year e-card to friends and family.
- Printables4Kids has a Happy Leap Year Coloring Page.
- Do some Leap Day Math: list the next five leap years after 2016.
- Visit your library and check out a book on Leap Day. The LeapYearDay.com website has a list of suggestions.
- Take a trip back in time to 46 B.C. to find out the confusing truth behind the origin of leap years, in an article originally published in Highlights magazine. You can also learn more about Leap Day history at History.com.
- When we think of leaping, we often think of frogs, so play a round of Leapfrog. Or try musical lily pads, which is played like musical chairs. But instead of chairs, the kids have to hop from lily pad to lily pad. Make large lily pads out of green construction paper or felt to place on the floor. About one foot in diameter is a good size. (Be sure to tape them down so no one slips!)
- Play some jumping games. See who can jump the farthest. Practice your standing and running long jumps. See who can jump the highest. See who can hop on one foot the longest.
- Have a jump rope contest with a Leap Day twist. Use this rhyme: “Leap year, leap year when will you be? Every four years, then you’ll see. You want more? We do too! How many more can you leap to?”
- Instead of Pin the Tail on the Donkey game, play Pin the Crown on the Frog.
- Have a scavenger hunt where kids have to find numbers divisible by four or sets of four items (four books, four pencils, etc.).
- Use the Leap Day theme to promote reading. Encourage everyone to read a book on Leap Day and reward students with a leap day reading certificate. Print out some Leap Year Bookmarks too.
- Check out all of the printable frog coloring and activity pages here and here.
- Find out who is on the lily pad by completing a Leap Year Dot-to-Dot printable from Crayola.
- Little ones can have fun with this printable Frog Match Up Game from Montessori Print Shop.
- Print, cut, and follow the instructions to make a Jumpin’ Frog Origami.
- CD Frog Craft – Have some green felt? Turn those old and scratched up CDs into a cute green frog!
- Frog Bean Bag – DLTK Kids shows you how to make a bean bag frog.
- Enchanted Learning has instructions for a Frog Paper Bag Puppet that requires brown paper bags, construction paper, pipe cleaners, googly eyes and crayons or markers.
- Disney has a quick and simple tutorial to make a Kermit the Frog Cardboard Puppet. You will need cardboard, glue, tape, green felt, green paint (and brushes), craft knife, and paper fasteners.
- Leap Day is the perfect time to study frogs, toads, and other animals that leap. Go to the library and look for books about frogs, or do some research on the internet. Do you know how far frogs can jump? What’s the world’s largest frog? Start with Frog Fun Facts from the American Museum of Natural History.
- Visit a local pet store, zoo, or aquarium to see some real frogs.
- Listen and sing along to a chorus of Frog Sounds from Madagascar.
- Check out today’s Bing page which features a close-up photo of a Henkel’s leaf-tailed gecko, mid-leap: https://www.bing.com (Place your cursor over the little squares in the picture for additional info.)
- Watch this cool National Geographic video about Flying Snakes… and Leaping Lizards: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLbkVanjHVU
- Watch this BBC Wildlife clip about kangaroos hopping: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guBPx7HhaJk
- High-speed video footage of leaping lizards supports a 40-year-old hypothesis about how theropod dinosaurs, like the velociraptors of Jurassic Park fame, adjusted the angle of their tails to stay stable when jumping. View Leaping Lizards here: https://youtu.be/fJiJMr7pET8
- Read The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, then watch some serious frog jumpin’ in Calaveras County, inspired by Mark Twain’s famous short story.
- Encourage students to plan ahead with a Four Things Flyer for Leap Day that asks them to list four things they hope to do before next Leap Year.
- Children can create a time capsule to open on the next Leap Day. They can write a letter, set goals for the next few years, add a current photo or art project, and try to predict the future. Who will be president on the next Leap Year? How will technology have changed? Seal the time capsule securely and label it “Do not open until Leap Day 2020!”