If you have tried explaining leap year to a young child, the answer may get complicated quickly (after the second “but why…?”). Here are a few fun facts about leap year to share with your children or students in celebration of February 29, 2016!
- A leap year has an extra day for a total of 366 days. The extra day is added onto the shortest month, February.
- The Romans first designated February 29 as leap day.
- The Julian calendar was formed in 45 B.C., named after Julius Caesar. The solar calendar year was determined to be 365 days and 6 hours. At the end of four years, these extra hours add up to 24, or one full day.
- Leap years are divisible by four.
- The Julian calendar was used until 1582, when Pope Gregory XIII further refined the system. This Gregorian calendar is the one in most common use today.
- The odds are that 1 person in 1,461 will be born on February 29, which is less than one-tenth of one percent of the population.
- If you were born in 1968, you would be 12 in leap years but actually 48 years old; if you were born in 2004, you would be 3 in leap years but actually 12 years old.
How Do You Really Know If It’s a Leap Year?
These two sites offer everything you need to know to calculate a leap year:
The Math Is Fun site provides this simple overview. Leap years are any year that can be evenly divided by 4 (such as 2012, 2016):
- except if it can be evenly divided by 100, then it isn’t (such as 2100, 2200)
- except if it can be evenly divided by 400, then it is (such as 2000, 2400)
This Science World article provides an in-depth explanation of the mathematical equations and astronomy behind the creation of leap year.
Leap Year Activities and Books for Young Children
“The Year of Confusion” article: This Highlights for Children article tells the story of how Julius Caesar tried to reform the Roman calendar and create a calendar that followed the seasons. In the end, 46 B.C. became the longest leap year in history!
Leap Year Theme Books: This “Leap Year Day Headquarters” site provides leap day facts and a list of books for children that incorporate a leap year theme.
“Living Calendar” Skit about Leap Year: This Evan-Moor activity includes a short script, some facts to share, and a position chart to help children understand leap year. (Ideal for grades K–1.)
Theresa Wooler has more than 10 years’ experience in K–6 classrooms as a parent volunteer and homeschool educator, has taught high school English, and is currently involved in education through Evan-Moor’s marketing communications team.