What is a Kite?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A kite is an object which is designed to fly on a tether while being handled by a human operator. Most kites have three main components: the body of the kite itself, a harness, and a tether. Numerous styles of kites are flown all over the world recreationally, competitively, and in sports; many cultures have a large kite flying component, especially in Asia and the Middle East. Kites are readily obtainable from toy stores and sports suppliers, and some people also enjoy making their own.

Hang gliders and paragliders work on the same principles as kites.
Hang gliders and paragliders work on the same principles as kites.

Kites appears to have originated in China; written descriptions and paintings of kites date back to around 200 BCE. Evidence suggests that kites spread across China into other parts of Asia and finally into the Middle East, and by the medieval era, kites were very popular toys for Europeans. Kites have also been historically used as tools for weather observation and other studies of the natural world.

Kites appear to have originated in China.
Kites appear to have originated in China.

A kite is heavier than air, but it has a design that is supposed to promote wind resistance. When the kite is launched, air pressure builds up under the kite, causing it to lift; as winds and air pressure change, the kite moves through the sky. Many kites have yokes or multiple lines so that they can be more easily controlled, although the classic design includes one line which the user can reel in or pay out as needed.

The framework of a kite is usually made from a lightweight material; traditionally this would have been wood, although plastic and light metals are used on modern kites. Paper, fabric, or plastic sheeting is stretched over the framework of a kite, turning it into a sort of giant wing. Some common kite styles include box kites, which look like two open-ended boxes attached to each other, diamond kites, and lozenge kites. Several producers manufacture very fancy kites with special design features to keep them in the air longer.

In addition to basic kites, people can also use sport kites, kites which are designed with a high degree of controllability so that they can perform stunts and aerial acrobatics. These stunt kites are often used in competition, sometimes in formation with other kites as a team. For sports like kite surfing and kite buggying, people use power kites, extremely large kites which are designed to generate a great deal of pull for the user. Hang gliders and paragliders also refer to their gear as a “kite,” since their equipment works in the same way as an ordinary child's kite.

In kite surfing, large kites are used to pull boards similar surfboards.
In kite surfing, large kites are used to pull boards similar surfboards.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@strawCake - Sounds like you were keeping up with the Jones' before you even knew what that phrase meant!

I flew a kite a few times when I was kid too. I didn't have a very long attention span though, so I lost interest pretty quickly. My parents weren't very happy, because I pretty much begged them for the kite and said I would use it all the time. Come to think of it, I think they actually might still have my kite in their garage somewhere!


I flew a kite a few times when I was a kid. I always had a lot of trouble getting it up in the air! But when I was able to actually get the kite flying, it was a lot of fun!

I actually got into the idea of flying a kite because a family that lived across the street was really into flying kites. Everyone in the family had their own kite, and sometimes on Saturday's all four of them would go out and fly the kites! They looked so cool. The first time I saw that I knew I had to have one too!


Learning how to fly a kite isn't really hard, but it does take a little bit of practice. I think every kid should have the opportunity to choose a kite and go outside and learn how to fly it.

This is something that doesn't cost much money to do, but is a great activity for them. It seems like we buy new kites every spring because either we can't find our old ones, or they are too beaten up to do much good.

Flying kites is one of our favorite spring activities that my kids look forward to every year. I have found we are most successful when there is a strong enough breeze to keep them in the air, but not too windy.


I have many memories of flying a kite when I was a kid. We lived at the edge of a small town that was surrounded by fields, so always had plenty of room to fly our kites.

Even though I enjoyed doing it, I was never very good at it. It seemed like the wind needed to be just right to make sure the kite stayed up in the air. I think my biggest frustration was when my ball of string would get all tangled up.

I know you can go to a kite store and buy some really cool looking kites. All of our kites were pretty cheap and came from the general store, so that might have had something to do with it as well.

It was always a good day when I got my kite to stay up in the air without getting it caught in a tree.


When I moved to Florida for the summer, I actually found a job flying kites. Who would have thought you could get paid for something so easy?

The job was with an advertising agency. Clients took advantage of the fact that the beaches were so populated during the summer months by paying to have their logos and info painted on big kites and flown in the area. This was cheaper than having a plane fly over with their ad attached to it.

Sometimes I had to fly kites on the beach, but most of the time, I had to go out on a boat to do it. This was more effective, because more people gaze out at the water than back at the sand.


My friend and I decided to experiment with kites as sails. We were in a canoe out on a huge lake, and the wind was pretty strong.

We had gone to a dollar store and bought four of the biggest kites they had. We unwound the string to allow the kites to rise to a certain height, and then we secured it to the canoe.

We actually did move a little faster than we would have without the kites. We also managed to entertain several people on the beach. I saw them on shore pointing at us and clapping. One lady even took pictures.


I remember my first kite. It was rainbow colored and diamond-shaped, and I was so excited to fly it for the first time.

However, that day, there was almost no wind. I kept trying to run with the kite to get it lifted up, but once I got it in the air, it fell back down quickly.

The following day was very windy, and I had so much fun with the kite. A few times, the wind’s pull on the string was so strong that I thought I might lose it. I didn’t, though, and I entertained myself with the kite for many days thereafter.


I have a kite that is designed to look like an eagle. It has wings and a tail, and if the wind carries it high enough, it does look like a bird at a distance. At least, my dog thinks so.

She goes crazy every time she sees a bird flying over. I knew this kite would drive her nuts, and that’s part of the reason I bought it. It’s just so funny to see her running back and forth, barking enthusiastically at the kite bird.

I have even seen a few birds diving at my kite. When this happens, I start to reel it in, because I don’t want them damaging it.


I recently had the chance to go to a kite festival and it was amazing to see the assortment of kites that were there. You could even buy kites that looked like miniatures of some of the larger kites on display.

One of the favorite kites I spotted looked like a giant UFO with an alien riding on top of it. It was quite cute, and I liked that whomever made it had a sense of humor about the whole thing.

For those that aren't handy enough to make your own kite, you can find some kite shops that specialize in kites of all shapes and sizes.


Making your own kite can be a really fun project if you have kids and want something easy to craft, without spending a lot of money. All you need for kite supplies is some plain fabric, paints, a few wooden chopsticks, a glue gun with glue sticks and string. You can get all of the kite materials at a craft store, or just gather the items from around your home if you have them.

To make the kite just cut your fabric into a diamond and paint it any colors you like. After it is dry create a frame for the kite with the chopsticks and attach it with the glue. Finally, add the string and you have an easy to make kite. Just be warned, it make take a few tries to make one that flies really well.

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