Winter science: Use traditional activities of the season as learning opportunities

Schools closing for winter break doesn’t mean learning should stop. Use traditional winter activities to help teach youth to see science all around them.

Formal educators have a break every December when schools close their doors for a few weeks before jumping back into the swing of things in January. It could be easy to also let learning take a break during this time, but you can show youth that science is always around them! Michigan State University Extension’s 4-H Youth Development Program suggests using traditional holiday activities, weather and happenings to continue science learning in a non-formal setting to encourage youth to interact and engage with the world around them.

One excellent place to start is the kitchen, otherwise known as a chemistry and physics lab at home! Cooking is an amazing opportunity to teach youth about physical states (solid, liquid, gas), equations (mixing the right amount of ingredients to create a desired dish), thermodynamics (baking or using a pressure cooker) and so much more. Chocolate chip cookies, candies like fudge or toffee, pumpkin pie or hot chocolate are a few tasty treats to experiment with where learning and eating all happen together. Main courses or side dishes can be part of the science too. What happens when mash potatoes and gravy are part of discovery time in the kitchen laboratory? Maybe a turkey appears as part of a holiday meal again, or a dish of delicious pasta – more to learn from both of these foods!

Outside of the kitchen, but still indoors, a fireplace is a spot to teach about thermodynamics. Use the entire home or apartment as an experiment station to learn about keeping inside dwellings warm. On the flip side, maybe experiment on how to keep cold things cold by learning about coolers. When traveling to visits friends and family over the break, the car can be turned into a physics experiment.

The cold weather lends itself to further discoveries. Soon the Winter Solstice will be here and daylight hours will again begin to grow longer, but why is it still so cold? Once snow starts to fall and stick to the ground, sledding or using paw prints to track animals are great activities to learn about physics and biology. Even without snow, the colder temperatures lend themselves to numerous activities. Even some warm weather activities, like blowing bubbles, can be performed in winter to learn how temperature impacts experimental results.

Winter break is a wonderful time to explore the natural world of Michigan in new ways. Be a “mad scientist cook” in the kitchen, and extend science learning outside of the classroom. Take some time to play with winter science this year – who knows what you will discover!

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