15 Smarty Pants Ways To Enjoy Snow

 

Save some coldness for summer. (CC by 2.0 dumbledad)

Explore the science, art, and dessert potential of snow. Image: CC by 2.0 dumbledad’s flickr photostream.

There’s much more to snow than its seasonal good looks. It’s invigorating to get out in the frosty cold (it’s even good for babies). And those lovely piles of frozen water vapor just might inspire you to indulge in some brain-boosting activities.

1. Identify snowflakes. Look carefully at snowflakes that fall on your sleeve or cling to your window. Although no two snowflakes are alike, there are basic shapes. 

 2. Stalk snowflakes. Go outside with a sheet of black paper, a good way to see individual shapes. You can even hunt for specific snowflake types using Ken Libbrecht’s Field Guide to Snowflakes or make quick sketches (still quite possible with mittens) in a journal. Enough snowflake stalking and you may I.D. quite a few.

3. Photograph snowflakes. Snowflakes seem to be everywhere, but they’re reluctant to pose for photos. They twirl away in the wind, clump together, or simply melt when you breathe on them. Persistence is the key. Get out there when flakes are falling slowly and there’s little to no wind. If you keep your phone (or camera) out, you’ll be ready to capture that brief moment when you can see individual flakes on your jacket.

A little planning can make decent shots more likely. We’ve had some success with this method. Take heavy dark blue or black plastic outdoors (we used a trash can set on its side). Place it in a bright area without shadows and let it chill to air temperature. Then, quickly photograph flakes as they settle on the surface. It’s best if you put your device on a tripod and set it to telephoto. Chances are you’ll get a few good images.

how to photograph snowflakes,

Snowflakes on jacket. Image: CC by 2.0 jenny mcflint.

4. Make paper snowflakes. Lacy snowflake cut-outs dangling from thread are classic winter decorations. Plus, they have a lot to teach us about symmetry—and patience. For ideas, check out easy paper snowflakes from coffee filters or more exacting snowflake designs.  I tend to skip all design recommendations. Just fold, cut, and unfold. The results are likely to be as unique as, well, a snowflake.

cut out paper snowflakes

5. Learn snow symbols There are  100 weather symbols used in meteorology. Check here, they’re pretty interesting. Snow symbols jump around, starting with number 22, which is pretty much an asterisk followed by a square bracket. Right now out my window, we’re experiencing #72 conditions, which look much prettier than their symbolic representation:

6. Grow your own snowflakes. This experiment calls for things we don’t usually have around the house like Styrofoam cups, soda bottles, and dry ice. But it’s worth it for the chance to briefly impersonate Boreas, the ancient Greek god of winter. You might also want to grow salt crystals, borax crystals , alum crystals, or the ever-reliable rock candy.

make rock candy

Rock candy. Image: CC by 2.0 gazeronly.

 

7. Chill out with some snowflake history. Wilson A. Bentley, a homeschooled Vermont farm boy born in 1865, became an amateur scientist and artist whose work remains a standard in the field.  Younger children will enjoy learning about him in Snowflake Bentley, while teens and adults may enjoy The Snowflake Man: A Biography of Wilson A. Bentley. And stop in to see his original photos at the Jericho Historical Society, if you ever find yourself near Bentley’s hometown of Jericho, Vermont.

Snowflake photos by Wilson Bentley. (Wikipedia.org)

Snowflake photos by Wilson Bentley. Wikipedia.org.

8. Shovel snow. It’s a great workout for the whole family. It’s also a warm act of kindness to surprise a neighbor with a shoveled drive, particularly for folks who are unwell or home with a new baby. For some reason, it’s even more fun to do this sort of favor secretly, so if you know the elderly couple next door won’t be home for a few hours, it’s a great time to dash over there with shovels. (There are plenty of other great ways to volunteer with kids, too.)

Good deed, good exercise. Image: Pippalou

Good deed, good exercise. Image: Pippalou

9. Build a snow fort. A snowdrift or a nice pile of snow from all of that shoveling is the perfect way to start. If there’s not enough snow, just hollow out a kid-sized space in the snow and anchor a sheet with a few snowballs to make a temporary roof.

Easy snow fort. Image: CC by 2.9 popofatticus.

Easy snow fort. Image: CC by 2.9
popofatticus.

10. Look into flaky science. Do snowflakes always have six branches? Are most snowflakes damaged before they land? What are the chances a similar snowflake has fallen in Earth’s history? Delve into these books to find out. Kids 4 to 7 will enjoy The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter’s WonderThe Snowflake : A Water Cycle Story, and a glimpse into where wild creatures handle winter in Under the SnowKids 8 to 12 will enjoy The Secret Life of a Snowflake: An Up-Close Look at the Art and Science of Snowflakes.

11. Make snow candy.  It’s unusual, memorable, and very sweet. Try the maple syrup method.

All natural! (CC by 2.0 the seafarer)

All natural! Image: CC by 2.0 the seafarer.

12. Mix up some snow ice cream. Try vanillachocolate peanut butter, or chocolate peppermint. Be sure to mix up all of the ingredients in advance, then go collect clean snow to mix in. Otherwise it’s a melty mess.

snow ice cream

 

13. Conduct the Clean Snow Experiment. You may, ahem, want to do this before making maple sugar candy or snow ice cream. All you need is a coffee filter and some snow. Pile the snow in the filter and let it melt completely, then examine what particulates may have been lurking in that white fluff.  It may deter you from eating snow and snow-related goodies, it may not.

 

 14. Read wintry fiction. For the little ones, try books like Snowflake Baby by Elise Broach,  Little Penguins by Cynthia RylantWhen Snowflakes Fall and Winter Friends, both by Carl SamsFor kids 4 to 7, snuggle up to read Snow by Cynthia Rylant, Snow by Uri Shulevitz, and the classic The Big Snow by Berta and Elmer Hader. Wintry YA books include The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin,  Snow-walker by Catherine Fisherand Jack London’s enduring tale White Fang

Cooperation in the forest. (Image: Wikipedia.org)

15. Freeze snowballs. Time to stock up. Get out there and pack lots of nice tight snowballs to save for the long snow-free months of summer. If you have lots of room, let each member of the family label and freeze his or her personal bag of snowballs. Wait patiently. Then on the steamiest, most uncomfortable day of summer, get those snowballs out. You’ll find something to do with them, guaranteed.

freeze a supply of snowballs

 

Whatever you do, just don’t forget to savor snow. Take a cue from kids so young they don’t remember last year’s winter. On their faces you see awe at how snow turns an ordinary neighborhood into a wonderland.

 

45 Cures for Cabin Fever

 

fun inside activities, cabin fever cures

Stuck inside? Make cabin fever fun by trying something new.

Set a new world record and register it on Recordsetter.com.  There’s even a junior division, with records like Most Consecutive Pieces of Dog Food Caught By a Dog,  Youngest Person to Recite the Periodic Table, and Fastest Time to Paint a Rainbow.

Stage an indoor snowball battle. Grab some paper from the recycling pile, crumple into balls, and throw.

Yarnbomb a piece of furniture. Too complicated? Just wrap it in brightly colored yarn or fabric strips.

Turn your daily lives into a guessing game. Take turns issuing a challenge and writing down everyone’s guesses, then prove each other right or wrong. The proof part is particularly fun as everyone hurries to count, measure, and calculate. Kids might choose to guess how many shoes are in the house. How many books. How many countries are represented in a drawerful of shirts (as long as they have origin tags). Guess the measurement of each other’s heads. How many inches it is from the front door to the TV, the computer, the bathroom. Guess how many days or hours each person has been alive. How long each person can stand on one foot. Well, you get the idea. The kids will not think this is fun if you have them guess how quickly they can put away their Lego. For more ways to make fun into math and math into fun, check out these 100 Math Activities and Resources.

Communicate via banana. Write a message or draw a picture on the skin of a banana using a toothpick or pencil. It’ll darken within an hour.

Paint without using your hands. Try taping the brush to a remote control toy, dangling it by a string, or rolling it across the paper. Or you might paint as this talented young artist does, by holding a paint brush in your mouth.

Make geodes out of eggshells and Epsom salts.

Start inventing. Save cardboard boxes and cardboard tubes of all sizes, along with string, rubber bands, lids, paper clips, yogurt cups, and so on. Distribute equal amounts of this “junk” so kids can build whatever they choose —- like a junk marble run or egg drop (from a window). Try a specific challenge, similar to the old TV series Junkyard Wars.  Kids can invent sorters that send pennies down one chute and dimes down another, bridges that hold weight, catapults that toss ping-pong balls, or simply let inspiration hit.

Make a batch of Make Ahead Pizza with this recipe from Attainable Sustainable.

Help out the birds (and squirrels, they’re hungry too). Fill orange halves with birdseed, make a birdseed wreath, or coat pinecones with peanut butter and roll in birdseed. Keep the binoculars and bird guide close for bird watching. To attract even more birds during the winter, consider putting a heated bird bath on your deck or porch railing.

Play with tape. Rolls of painter’s tape or masking tape can spur new play ideas. Toy vehicles and action figures can travel along roadways made of tape stretched along on the floor. Overpasses, buildings, and other roadside features can be made from shoeboxes and other cardboard discards. Tape a giant checkerboard on the carpet, then use two sets of matching items for playing pieces. Tape a hard-surfaced floor to mark out hopscotch or skellzies. Stretch tape, sticky side out, across a doorway and take turns throwing crumpled paper at it to see if it sticks.

Make paper dolls (or paper dinosaurs, robots, elves, whatever) from stiff paper, connecting the limbs with brads. Then cut out accessories. Use large sheets of paper to draw backgrounds. These paper characters can act out stories with endless variations.

Camp in. Put up a tent in the living room, construct forts using couch cushions, or toss a sheet over a table. Such secret hideaways are a portal to make-believe. (A flashlight per kid really amps up the fun.)

Make the easiest homemade cheese. You need only one ingredient other than milk.

Build geometric sculptures. This simply requires toothpicks and miniature marshmallows. It’s a great way to make free-form sculptures while discovering some principles of geometry. As the marshmallows dry they’ll adhere ever more tightly to the toothpicks. After a day or two of drying the kids can decorate their sculptures with markers or paint if they’d like.

Make marshmallow shooters and target shoot with those leftover marshmallows.

Set up an obstacle course. Release some pent-up energy with a temporary indoor obstacle course. It might consist of a few chairs in a row to wriggle under, six plastic cups to run circles around, a squared off area to perform ten jumping jacks, then three somersaults down the hall before turning around to do it all in reverse. Older kids can set up a simple obstacle course for smaller kids. The adult in charge might want to put safety rules in place before the frenzy begins.

Learn to play a free instrument you already have. Really, it’s in your kitchen.

Go through old photos to see how places where your family came from have changed. You can pin them on Historypin.com, send them to the area’s historical society, or post them on social media tagged to the town.

Paint the tub. Just mix up some bathtub paints, then put kids in a (dry) tub to paint away. When they’re done they can clean it up and themselves with water.

Puzzle it out. Set out a big, somewhat complicated puzzle and leave it out in an area where everyone can work on over a period of days until it’s done.

Make Flarp. It’s said to have the same properties as Silly Putty, except it also farts. (You know this will be a hit.)

Get moving. Balance a book on each head and see how far kids can walk before it falls off, use pillowcases for gunny sack races, tape zigzag and dash lines on the floor to follow for a run and jump race, bat balloons back and forth, turn on the music and dance, call out animal names (snake! kangaroo! sloth!) and move as those animals move, tape bubble wrap to the floor and jump.

Mix up some elephant toothpaste

Make a movie. Steven Spielberg started making movies as a kid so be sure to save your child’s film for posterity. Fame may hit. (Spielberg’s mother let him dump cans of cherry pie filling in the cupboards that slowly oozed out so he could film a horror movie. She probably wanted a free afternoon to watch her soaps, but there’s something to be said for creative license….)

Perform good deeds. Bake some goodies to share with a neighbor, local firefighters, or your librarians. For more family volunteering ideas, check 40 Ways to Volunteer, Toddler to Teen.

Draw on the windows. Use washable window markers to play tic-tac-toe or hangman. Or draw some sunshine.

Make fairies and superheroes out of wooden clothespins.

Snowy out there? Check out 15 Smarty Pants Ways to Enjoy Snow.

Goo around with homemade (and safe for toddler) slime.

Make your own family board game. Keep it simple for small ones, add twists and more complex questions for older kids. Together you can incorporate inside jokes, everyone’s names, favorite places around town, whatever your family decides.

Go postal. Consult 38 Unexpected Ways to Revel in Snail Mail to find out how you can find a pen pal, register for a mail exchange, mail strange objects without packing them in a box, and more.

Make Cosmic Suncatchers using glue, food coloring, and plastic lids.

Get your kids to predict the future. Better yet, write to your future selves. The kids may want to write to themselves as they’ll be in ten years or at your age. Don’t make this a child-only activity. Sit down and write to your future self too. You’ll want to include a description of an average day, list your favorite foods and activities, and imagine what you’ll be doing at that future date. Now seal those envelopes, write “Do Not Open Until ______” on the outside, and keep them somewhere you’ll remember.

Start throwing things. Juggling boosts brain development and reinforces a growth mindset. It’s also fun once you get the hang of it. Here’s more about juggling including how-tos.

Build a craft stick catapult.

Create sock puppets. Add features like ping-pong ball eyesyarn hair, and a cardboard mouth. For more ideas grab a copy ofHow to Make Puppets With Children or 10-Minute Puppets. Once your puppets are ready, create a theater out of a large cardboard box, practice a few scenes, then put on a performance.

Play vocabulary-boosting dictionary games. Trust me, these are actually a lot of fun.

Record a broadcast. For inspiration, you might listen to a recording of an old radio show, like the original 1938 broadcast of War of the Worldsthen make your own audio story complete with narration and sound effects. Toss in some campy advertisements for extra fun.

Learn magic tricks via KidZone magic tricks and About.com’s easy card tricks for kids. You might also want to consult Knack Magic Tricks: A Step-by-Step Guide to Illusions, Sleight of Hand, and Amazing Feats and Kids’ Magic Secrets: Simple Magic Tricks & Why They Work.

Stage a treasure hunt. First, hide a prize. The prize doesn’t have to be a toy (it could be a snack or pack of crayons). Next, hide clues. For non-readers the clues can be rebus pictures, digital photos, or magazine cut-outs. For readers try riddles, short rhymes, or question-based clues. Each one should lead the child to a spot where the next clue is hidden. If you have more than one child let everyone search for clues and figure them out together. Or stage treasure hunts for each child in turn using the collaborative efforts of those who are waiting. Once kids are familiar with treasure hunts they can easily set them up on their own. To get you to play they may turn off your cell, hide it, and chortle gleefully while you track it down.

Create art out of salt and glue.

Slide on the steps. Flatten cardboard from a large box and place over stairs so kids can race cars up and down, roll balls, or pretend to be mountain-climbers. Couch pillows at the bottom help cushion sliding mountain climbers.

Teach traditional clapping games to small children

Have a picnic. Yes, a picnic. Fling a tablecloth or beach towel on the floor. Eating on the floor may be novel enough but make sure the meal consists of picnic-y finger foods for real authenticity. You might want to fire up the grill to cook hot dogs and roast marshmallows. If you’re eating on a tiled floor in the kitchen consider amping up the fun by ending the picnic with a brief rainstorm you impose with a squirt bottle. Then again, maybe not. The kids will get you back some day.