Looking for ways to engage your learners during a snow day? Check out these five simple science activities and experiments for kids of all ages!
Winter days can become monotonous, as daylight hours wane and temperatures drive us indoors. However, there are plenty of simple winter science activities and experiments that you can do with your learners to capitalize on the cold weather.
In addition to keeping your kids actively engaged in science, these winter-themed science activities build critical thinking skills. They require learners to make predictions, analyze results, and draw conclusions based on their observations. These activities require very few supplies, making these investigations budget-friendly and broadly accessible!
Observe Heat Absorption of Trees
Visualize heat absorption in plants when there is snow on the ground.
Have you ever noticed the absence of snow directly underneath a tree a day or so after a snowfall? This lack of snow appears not only because the branches of the tree blocked snow from accumulating under the tree.
The snow beneath the tree melts due to heat from the sun absorbed by the tree. As the tree warms up, the air around the tree warms as well and increases the soil temperature around the tree. As the soil heats up, snow melts faster and exposes the underlying ground.
Further, evergreen trees often heat faster than deciduous trees. Each tree absorbs heat through its surface. Evergreen trees have more surface area than deciduous trees thanks to the needles that remain on the tree year-round (while deciduous trees typically lose their leaves and the surface area of those leaves). Additionally, darker colors absorb more heat. Faster heat absorption from both the darker color and larger surface area causes evergreen trees to heat up the underlying soil much faster than deciduous trees in the same area.
Take your learners out for a snow walk (or show them the following images) and ask them why snowless rings occur underneath trees. See what they come up with! Extend their learning and incorporate data collection and graphing skills. Have students take temperature measurements of the ground, beginning at the base of the tree and moving out towards the edge of the snow ring at even increments of distance, recording their findings as they go.
Observing how trees absorb heat also helps young learners connect to and better understand other heat absorption principles in nature. Specifically, the color of an object drives how efficiently something absorbs heat.
In the case of the trees, you learners observed that the dark evergreen trees absorb more heat than light deciduous trees. Similarly, solar cells of solar panels are black to maximize heat energy absorption (which they then turn into electricity). Underneath their white fur, a polar bear’s black skin absorbs more heat to stay warm. We may avoid dark-colored clothing in the summertime to stay cool in the summer heat.
Science is everywhere, if only we have the knowledge to see it!
Fun fact: Do you know the difference between absorption and adsorption? Absorption means when particles of one phase soak into another phase. An example of absorption is a towel soaking up water. Adsorption means when particles stick to the surface of another phase but do not soak into the other phase. An example of adsorption is the non-stick surface of a pan or water contaminants sticking to the surface of a charcoal filter. Our co-founder learned this while reviewing this post. You learn something new every day, and she wanted to share it with you.
Experimenting with Freezing Water
Create critical thinkers with water, food coloring, and a below-freezing temperature!
The other day, my nine-year-old daughter asked me if the color of water affects its freezing point. I asked her what she thought the answer was. She proposed that because darker colors absorb heat better than lighter ones (as we learned above), dark-colored water would freeze at a lower temperature than light-colored water.
I suggested that she get some food coloring and test her hypothesis!
I knew that the addition of food coloring wouldn’t change the freezing point of water.,But this proveds an excellent opportunity for her to design, test, and analyze her very own experiment. Nurturing her confidence in carrying out the scientific method from start to finish is a fundamental part of her education, so we quickly gathered our supplies and she got started.
From this simple experiment, your learners can (with a bit of guidance depending on ability level):
- Form a hypothesis
- Create a materials list
- Write step-by-step instructions to conduct the experiment
- Collect data
- Visualize data with the creation of a graph
- Analyze the data
- Form a conclusion based on the data collected
Learning how to properly design, conduct, and analyze an experiment takes time. We completed this activity over two days. The first day, she designed and conducted the experiment. The second day she graphed the data, analyzed the results, and drew conclusions. Depending on the abilityof your learners and the time you have to devote to this lesson, you may spread the learning out over a week’s time.
Head over to Thoughtfully Sustainable to check out the full details of our student-led water freezing experiment. You’ll find detailed instructions to complete the experiment as well as guidance about how to lead your learner through the steps to design, conduct, and analyze the experiment themselves.
Making Predictions with Melting Snow
Water molecules are pretty amazing.
When most substances transition from a liquid to a solid-state, the molecules of the substance pack tightly together, creating a denser substance. Not so for water! When water molecules transition from a liquid state to a solid state (i.e. when they freeze), they follow a different structure of organization than most other matter because of their structure and their polarity.
As they freeze, individual water molecules slightly repel each other when similarly charged ends come in contact, causing them to spread out while they freeze. Because water molecules spread out more as ice relative to water, ice is less dense than water.
We can demonstrate the repelling action of water molecules using like-charged magnets. Magnets with the same charge repel each other while oppositely charged magnets will attract.
Density is a measurement of the amount of mass in a particular volume of space. We observe this variance in density (caused by the slight repulsion of water molecules during the freezing process) every time our birdbath freezes over. Ice forms on top of the water because ice is less dense than the liquid water below. This is also why ice cubes float when placed in a glass of water!
Even if you don’t have a birdbath, you can observe this unique aspect of water molecules and the related implications on density if you collect a sample of snow and let it melt.
My son collected one cup of snow and brought it into our kitchen. As you can see, one cup of packed snow melts to create only half of a cup of water.
Water expands when it freezes and condenses when it melts because of the structure of the water molecules and their relative polarity
This is a fun activity to get your kids thinking and making hypotheses. Most children are afraid of being “wrong”; this activity teaches them that being wrong is part of the fun! In fact, educated guesses drive science forward. When we realize our answer is wrong, we can confidently move forward in the right direction! Try to foster the idea that it’s not the “right” or “wrong” answer that’s important but rather the design of the experiment that answered the initial question!
Determining How Salt Affects Ice
Every winter before a storm, large trucks rumble down the road through my neighborhood, spreading salt crystals over the pavement. My six-year-old and nine-year-old were curious about why these trucks appeared before a storm. I decided to not only tell them but to show them the purpose of the salt trucks with a simple science experiment.
To give some background, salt reduces the freezing point of water. When we layer salt onto the road before a storm, it reduces the amount of water and snow that turn into dangerous ice on the road. To visualize the concept of salt lowering the freezing point of water, I gathered a few simple supplies from my kitchen and got to work. This experiment took approximately 30 minutes for my kids to complete from start to finish, with additional time to discuss the environmental implications of adding salt to icy roadways.
Click here to see the entire science experiment demonstrating the effect salt has on the freezing point of water and how the over-utilization of salt on outdoor surfaces can be harmful to the environment.
Making Ice Cream Using the Science of Salt and Water
You’ve probably eaten ice cream. But have you ever made your own from scratch? Furthermore, have you ever made your own ice cream and counted it as a science lesson?
When I was a high school Chemistry teacher, I always celebrated the end of our solutions unit by making ice cream with my students. This was one of their favorite science activities. We needed only three simple ingredients to make our ice cream, along with a bag full of toppings and spoons. On ice cream making day,I spent each teaching period transforming my classroom into an ice cream parlor.
To accommodate all dietary restrictions, I also brought alternative half-and-half options like soy milk and almond milk for students to utilize. If you do not eat dairy, these alternatives make great ice cream too. Eating the final product was not a requirement of the science activity; it was just an option that many students chose!
You may be wondering, “Sounds fun, but HOW is this teaching students about Chemistry?”
I thought you might ask. The science of making your own ice cream is quite simple and relies on the freezing point depression that occurs when salt and water are mixed. Click here to learn the simple chemistry behind creating your favorite cold, creamy treat!
Making Science Easily Accessible
Conducting simple science experiments and activities like these allows students to see that science is everywhere and doesn’t require fancy equipment to conduct investigations. Additionally, their confidence in making predictions and interpreting information will grow, strengthening their critical thinking skills.
If you try any of these science activities and experiments, please let us know by tagging us @RaisingGlobalKidizens on Instagram or Facebook, or by leaving a comment below. If you have any questions, feel free to email us. We love connecting with like-minded people dedicated to raising responsible global citizens, and we read each and every email we receive!