Winter means snow, cold temperatures – and science! The following activities are a great way to help children explore the natural world, and to learn how to conduct their own investigations.
Water – which is a liquid at room temperature – can take many forms when it expands into a solid: ice, hail, and, of course, snow!
Using a measuring cup, scoop up a measurable amount of snow. Note how much you scooped. Then, let the snow melt. Observe how much water is left in the cup. You should find that very little water makes a lot of snow! To expand the experiment, measure an amount of water and then freeze it in a measuring cup. Once it freezes, see how much space the ice takes up. Repeat this with different liquids like juice, milk, or even vinegar and soy sauce, to compare how much liquid it takes to make a solid.
Gather pinecones from outside and let them soak in hot or cold water. What happens to them? (You should see them collapse.) Then let them dry out, either on a windowsill or on very low heat in an oven. What happens next? (You should see them expand.) Try this with multiple types of pinecones. Predict what will happen to the pinecones in the snow.
Freeze water in bowls or large cups to create extra large ice cubes. Turn these large ice cubes out on a cookie sheet or a tray with high sides. (You might also want to put a towel underneath the tray to make clean up easier.)
Ask children to sprinkle salt on the ice. What happens? (You should see the salt lowering the freezing point of ice, which will cause it to melt.) Then use a child friendly pipette or eye dropper to add water color or food coloring to the ice. (You should see the food coloring running into the crevices created by the salt and coloring the ice.) Allow children to continue to experiment with both the coloring and the salt. Provide children with magnifying glasses, tweezers, or other tools kids can use to explore further.
When it starts snowing, put a black piece of cloth or cardboard outside or in the freezer for 15-20 minutes until it freezes. Then take the cardboard out into the snow and watch snowflakes fall on it. Use a magnifying glass to look at the six-point crystals, which should be highly visible on the dark surface. After, come inside and draw what you observed.
After it snows, go outside and look for animal footprints. If you have a ruler, measure the prints and the distance of the stride. Try and guess what animals made the footprints. Then follow the footprints and guess what the animal may have done while it was walking around. Did it snack on grass? Did it dig a hole? After exploring, provide a child with a small amount of flour in a cookie tray, and plastic animal figurines. Ask children to use the toy animals to make footprints. How do their footprints differ? How do they look similar? How do they change your guesses about the footprints you already saw?