Science ideas for young children: Part 16 – Snow

Teach young children science while playing in the snow.

The natural world has an abundance of science activities that anyone can conduct with children. This article is a continuation in a series by Michigan State University Extension about science ideas for young children. Teaching science in fun and unique ways can be done within a family, in a day care setting, as part of school activities, a 4-H club or with any group that works with young children.

Being around kids gives me a renewed appreciation for snow. As an adult, we tend to worry about driving in snowy conditions, or shoveling the driveway. To a kid, snow transforms the dreary, barren late fall, and early winter, landscape into a slippery playground where the entire planet is covered with fun. Snow can help with building forts and snowmen, allows us to slide across the landscape on sleds, and pelt our family members with snowballs. Below are some easy experiments young children can do with snow.

  • How much water is in the snow?
    Fill a large pail loosely with snow and ask the kids to guess how much water is in the snow. Bring the pail inside, let the water melt and then measure it with measuring cups. Did they guess correctly? Try filling the same pail with snow again, but this time pack it in tightly. Will there be a different amount of water when it melts? How different will it be? If there is a large snowpack, have different kids gather snow from different areas of the yard and guess which snow will have more water. Measuring the snow by cups before putting it in the pail gives a direct comparison after it is melted. This is easier to understand for young minds. Provide one or two short activities while the snow is melting or how to speed up the melting process will keep youngsters engaged.
  • Why do snowflakes look different?
    If you let the snow fall on your sleeve, you will notice that they can look vastly different. Why do you think that is? Work with your kids to have a snowflake diary. Draw pictures or take photographs of snowflakes on different days and record them in a notebook. Also record the temperature, wind speed and humidity if you can. Are there any patterns? Do certain types of snowflakes develop on particular days? A guide to some of the types of snowflakes is available online.
  • How do I make the perfect snowball?
    There is a lot of science that goes into the perfect snowball: aerodynamics, materials science, chemistry, physics and more. Set up some targets in your yard. Lay out some markers at particular distances. Have the kids try to hit the target or throw the farthest. This isn’t meant to be a competition, but to get kids to experiment with snowball engineering to make the design that works well for them. Try different sizes of snowball. Try making them with gloved versus bare hands. Try different shapes. Try throwing underhand versus overhand. I suggest kids work in pairs. Some youth may throw better than others and others may have creative ideas to share. Their partner can throw if they are self-conscious about their throwing ability. This will help eliminate any competition that could occur and put the focus on the science part.

I hope this winter you take time to enjoy the beauty of the snow and experiment with some cool science.

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