Fun in the Snow

I can’t actually believe I just used fun and snow in the same title.  Usually feels like an oxymoron to me but this week’s snow and all of the people I have encountered who are excited by it has kind of renewed my own sense of wonder and excitement about it.  I’ve even been giggling at our 20-something friend who recently moved here from Australia who thinks that the 4 inches of snow we got counts as a “blizzard” and who posted with great exuberance shining right through on Facebook that she had just been outside making her first snow angels.  I’ve been smiling (a bittersweet smile though as I miss him terribly) as I was reminiscing about stories of my nephew Joey and the comical conversation we once had (think Abbott and Costello “Who’s on first”) when he kept saying it was cold outside so could he please borrow a toboggan for his head.  Here in Canada, a toboggan is a sled that you ride down snow covered hills on.  Apparently, in Arkansas, the people he knew used toboggan as another term for a toque.  Much confusion and laughter ensued!  I have also been enjoying watching our dog leap and bound through the snow with great joy and abandon, always coming back into the house with snowflakes on her snout.  And I’ve been remembering fondly all the fun I used to have in the snow with my daughter when she was little as well as with my young students when I was teaching.  Here are some of those ideas for you to try out:
~Snowmen and other snow sculptures: Of course, the first thing most people think of doing when they get a good snowfall is heading out to build a snowman.  However, just like with making castles and creatures out of sand, you can make much more than just the basic snowman out of snow.  With my students we usually started with something like a teddy bear (lying down on the ground) or a turtle or a fish (again lying on the ground) because you could start with a rounded mound of snow which we found was the easiest shape to make.  If you want to make smaller ones, you could use large bowls as moulds but it’s certainly easily enough to just create small hills of snow as your base without the moulds.  In many places near where I live in Canada, they take this one step further and use water over their creations to turn them into more of an ice sculpture but I never did that with my students because I felt that then having all these icy creatures out on the schoolyard could potentially lead to more opportunities for the kids to get hurt.  At some schools, we would even hold a winter carnival with all kinds of activities in the snow and snow sculptures were always a big part of these – an homage to the most wonderful winter carnival I have ever seen held  in Quebec City each year!  We would even have one of the teachers don a Bon Homme costume for the event.  Bon Homme is the official snowman mascot of the Quebec Carnival and if you check out the Carnival website or the Youtube video below, you will see him in all his glory!
Information and photographs of the Quebec Winter Carnival
An overview of the Quebec Winter Carnival
Two great videos showing the snow sculptures at the Carnival
Want to add some colour to your snow creations?  See the next item!
~Snow painting: Did you know that you can paint the snow?  My method was to fill some spray bottles with water that had food colouring added to it.  The kids could use these to paint their snowmen/sculptures or to create patterns and designs on the snow covered ground.  It’s pretty and safe for the environment.
~Tracks in the snow: We would pull out animal field guides from the library and take a look at the tracks of various animals.  Sometimes we would have fun by looking at those of animals that live on the other side of the world from us, but I usually focused it on the types of animals common to our area.  In this way, it built right into our study of local animals and potentially then gave the students the knowledge to be able to look for real tracks in their own yards!  I usually made some pictures of the tracks we found in the books either on small posterboards or by photocopying little field guides for each student (nice for them to take home with them!) and we would study and discuss them.  Then we’d go on a hunt through the classroom or I’d send them home with the booklets to find items in their homes their parents would allow them to borrow and we’d use those found items to help recreate the animal tracks in the snow.  We also would look at and discuss the differences among the tracks each of us were leaving in the snow with our footwear – some gave rise to discussions of geometric terminology, others had boots that made adorable little smiley faces and such in the snow!  Again, taking some of our “snow paint” and decorating our footprints was a lot of fun too!
~Catching snowflakes: The kids just loved to catch snowflakes and then marvel at them under magnifying glasses or microscopes.  This can be done simply while out in the snow – it’s helpful to have something dark to catch them on so you can see them better so we’d pick out a child with a dark snowsuit and use them as our snow catcher.  They LOVED being picked for that role!  We would take magnifying glasses out with us and take turns looking at the flakes.  For a longer look at the snowflakes, especially if we wanted to bring them inside and examine them under a microscope, I would freeze some black or very dark blue construction paper sheets in the freezer.  You can also just lay the pieces of paper outside in the cold for a while but then you have the issue of them blowing away or getting accidentally stepped on. If you use the frozen construction paper, you can cut it up into small manageable pieces so that each child can have their own snow catcher!  Hold them up and catch some flakes on the paper.  Being frozen, they won’t melt when they hit the paper but obviously you have to work quickly if you want to bring them inside for a closer look under the microscope because they will melt fast once inside.  At one school, we had a set-up where it was only a few feet from the door outside to a fridge with a freezer.  I brought along my best cooler (just to make it even less likely for the snowflakes to melt) and transported some of the sheets with flakes on them into the freezer so that we could save them for later.  (I used to scoop up a large container of snow and save that for later too.) So much fun for the kids when you can pull out some preserved snow and snowflakes in June!  With older kids, you can even have them look at the snowflakes and classify them according to the types of crystals they are formed out of.
Go here for a printable PDF of a snowflake crystal chart:  This same site has some other cool ideas for learning more about snowflakes including how to preserve snowflakes on microscope slides using Superglue (clearly not something you want to attempt with small children but once preserved they could examine them!)
~Snow ice cream and snow sugar candy: Let me start off by saying that I never used these ideas with my students because I know that they can be controversial for some people due to the potential pollution content of the snow.
Snow Ice Cream:
Place a bowl outside to collect freshly fallen snow.  Mix 1 gallon of snow with 1 cup sugar, 1 T. vanilla extract, and then approximately 2 cups milk (add the milk a bit at a time, stirring in as much as needed to make the consistency you prefer).  Serve immediately.
Snow Sugar Candy:
Simple simple!  We used to get to make this every year when I was growing up in Quebec.  It was an annual tradition for our classes to be taken to a “Sugaring Off” party at one of the local maple sugar shacks.  After we toured the area and learned how maple syrup was made, they would treat us to making our own maple sugar candy.  All you need is a container of freshly fallen snow and some maple syrup.  When you pour the syrup onto the snow, the cold makes the syrup harden very quickly into a chewy taffy like maple candy.  Yum!
A sugaring off party in Quebec:  They show the process for making the maple syrup and near the end how to make the maple candy on snow!
~Making Ice Cream Using the Snow: Now here is an ice cream recipe I did use with my students because they aren’t actually consuming the snow.  (Note: I did make the above recipes with my daughter.  In my estimation and that of my dad the chemist, the risk from the pollution was relatively small given that we only did this a few times in her entire life.  It’s up to each of you to decide if you feel it’s safe enough or not to use for yourself and your own children!)  You need two cans like coffee cans – they need to have lids you can put on them and one can needs to be smaller than the other with some space between them to accommodate the snow.  In the smaller can (and yes it’s important that they be metal cans. This aids in the freezing process!), put 1 cup cold milk (as cold as you can get it!), 1 cup sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla, and if you’d like to make chocolate ice cream, you can add 1 T. chocolate syrup.  We tried making some for my mom once by substituting some capuccino syrup for the chocolate syrup and she thought it was very tasty.  We also tried using some other flavours of syrups like the ones that come in strawberry flavour for making flavoured milk.  My daughter and students loved them but I found the taste a little too “fake’ for me.  Put the lid on the smaller can and place it inside the larger can.  Fill the space between the two cans with snow (or ice if you don’t have any snow around) and some salt.  The salt reacts with the snow to make it even colder and again aids in the freezing process.  Seal the larger can.  Now comes the fun part.  Have the kids sit on the floor and roll the can back and forth between each other for about half an hour.  In a classroom, we took turns – some would roll it back and forth for a bit while the others would work on some sort of art activity.  The rolling process mimics the churning that occurs in an ice cream machine.  Note:  this doesn’t produce ice cream that is as hard as store bought but it is a really tasty soft ice cream that the kids love!  Obviously, if you are making this for a classroom full of kids, you will need much larger cans and to increase the quantities given as this only makes about a cup of ice cream.  Or you can set it up so that you have a can of ice cream to share among every 2-4 students.  Also, we always used the can method because the kids had so much fun rolling it around the classroom but I have some teacher friends who make this same ice cream with Ziploc bags.  Same idea (although you may have to cut the recipe down to make it fit in the bags PLUS she would usually give each child their own Ziploc “ice cream maker” and so you might want to adjust the quantities if doing that so that each child isn’t getting too much ice cream) except that in place of the two different sized cans you use two different sized Ziplocs.  Shake the baggies around instead of rolling the cans to get similar results.  She emphasized the fact that you must use good quality bags – no cheap brands as she found those often sprung leaks OR that if using cheaper bags, she would place the whole she-bang down into a large garbage bag before allowing the kids to shake and twirl them around.  She also had them do this outside just in case there were any messes to clean up!  Some of the other teachers who tried this weren’t comfortable with the whole shaking and twirling the bags around as they had very very active students who were then likely to turn it into something a little too aggressive and someone might get hurt so they had the kids put on their winter gloves or mittens and simply “smoosh” the bag until done.
Now get on out there and have some fun in that snow!

2 responses to “Fun in the Snow

  1. Thanks for posting this! As a Florida native (for the first 40 years of my life) I am enjoying the much different weather in my adopted state of Washington. (Meaning the occasional snow and doing some of the activities you’ve described.) This is the first I’ve heard about the snowflake activity. I will try to do this at the first opportunity. (It hasn’t snowed here yet.)

    Cheshire Dawn

  2. Makes me wonder why I decided against snow 85 years ago when the first flake hit my baby face! Here it was 35 C Christmas day! Cheers, Fran

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