If you’re a teacher in a cold climate, you know that winter is here! With preschoolers that are in need of fresh air and learning activities that get them up and moving, you need to find a way to take advantage of those cold, snow-covered months.
Although stomping around in the snow with a bunch of preschoolers may feel like an arduous task, the winter environment offers an abundance of learning opportunities. Your students can ask questions that they would not be able to ask in the warmer months, such as “Where do the animals go in the winter?” and “What is snow made of?” From the change in vegetation to animal hibernation to icicles, you can cover a whole range of educational topics just by stepping out the front door.
Before venturing outdoors, inform parents that their children will be exploring outside and may get dirty, so they must be dressed appropriately for the weather. Make sure you keep a clothing box with extra hats, mittens, and boots handy. If you’re still wary of going outside with your little ones, check out these tips from PLT’s state coordinator in Minnesota.
Once everyone is suited up for the cold weather, here are some winter activities that you and your preschoolers can enjoy:
1. Evergreens in Winter
Evergreens trees in the winter offer a variety of sights, smells, and sensations that can help children connect with their environment. If you have evergreens outside of your classroom, you can teach your students a lot about the winter environment with the following activities:
- Search the ground for pinecones and look up in the evergreen trees for pinecones that haven’t fallen yet.
- Search for animal homes in deciduous trees.
- Lie down under the evergreens and look up through the branches. Talk about what you see and how evergreens provide shelter from the elements.
- Look for whorls of branches on the conifers. Estimate the age of the tree by counting the whorls.
2. Adopt a Tree
Get bundled up and go for a walk in a nearby park or forest. Invite your students to choose a tree of their liking to observe. You can encourage critical thinking by asking questions like:
- How is the tree similar or different from the ones around it?
- How does the tree help the environment?
- Is the tree alive? How do you know?
Ask your students to take notes of the signs of winter on and around the tree. These can include bare branches, animal tracks in the snow, and animal homes in the tree itself.
3. Blow Some Bubbles
Blowing bubbles doesn’t need to just be a summer activity. Grab some bubble solution and go outside into the cold weather. Have your students blow some bubbles and watch as they crystalize before their eyes.
If you have a blacktop outside, blow the bubbles there and see them roll around on the ground instead of popping. Have the students touch the bubbles and note how they feel. Eventually, the bubble solution itself will freeze and you have your students watch as the crystals slowly appear across the liquid’s surface. This is a great way to talk about the science of freezing and liquids.
Then, run inside and get warm!
As a note, this activity will only work for winter days that dip below freezing. It also works better if the bubble solution is cold before you head outside. So you might want to set the solution in a safe place outside in the morning and do this activity in the afternoon when the solution is cool.
4. Water and Snow
Give each student three cups and bring them outside to collect some snow in each cup. Then, come back inside and get three containers worth of cold, room temperature, and hot water. Pour some hot water over the snow in one container, some room temperature water over the snow in the second container, and some cold water over the snow in the third container. Have your students compare what has happened in each container and take notes.
This is a fun science experiment that will teach your students about snow and melting temperatures. Ask your students what they know about snow, and what they think will happen when they add water to snow. Will it melt, or stay the same?
5. Pinecone Birdfeeder
Learn more about the species that stick around during the winter months by making a pinecone birdfeeder. Start by tying a string around the pinecone. Then mix peanut butter with cornmeal, and oats. Use a spoon, or your fingers, to spread the mixture onto the pinecones. Finally, pour some birdseed onto a plate and roll the peanut butter covered pinecones in the seed until they are completely covered. Hang the pinecone birdfeeders in a tree and watch the birds (and squirrels!) as they visit.
Have your students note down which winter critters come to visit. With the white background, various songbirds, ducks, hawks and mammals are easier to spot. Compare the list of winter animals to those you may see in the warmer months.
6. Sounds Around
Discover the winter sounds by mimicking fox ears!
Prepare your students by giving each of them a paper plate cut in half. On one plate, have them write “Nature”, and on the other plate, have them write “Humans and Machines.” On the “Nature” plate, students will draw sounds made by things in nature, such as the crunching of snow, the whirl of the wind, or the scampering of tiny animals. On the “Humans and Machines” plate, students will draw sounds like a snow blower, humans talking, or a car engine.
When you come back inside, have the students share what they heard and tally it up on a large class chart.
7. Tracking Wildlife
Be animal detectives for a day and go outside hunting for wildlife tracks. Solving the mystery of “Who made those tracks?” can be incredibly fun and allow students to practice their observation skills. An animal field guide will be a great tool to bring along.
Clues you can look for include:
- Prints – look for claw marks and the number of toes
- Feather marks – wing imprints and dropped feathers can be great clues
- Gait patterns – was the animal running or walking? Is the gait parallel or diagonal?
- Scat – your students will giggle at this one, but scat is a great tool for seeing what the animal was eating!
- Browsing marks – claw marks in the bark, or nibbles here and there of the surrounding vegetation can show you who was walking by.
8. Create a Nature Collage Book
Even without colorful springtime flowers, the winter environment is still a great place to build a nature collage. Go on a winter walk in the woods with your students and tell them to collect any twigs, leaves, and rocks that they want to add to their collage. Bring along some colored pencils and have them draw a tree or any winter animals that they find. Have them write down observations of the objects next to their pictures. How do they smell? How big are they? What do they feel like?
You can also bring a camera to document the places you explore and other winter objects that the students may have missed. When you get back inside, have the students share their discoveries with one another and talk about the object that excited them the most.
9. Go on a Color Hunt
Although the majority of the winter environment is covered in white snow, there are still tons of colorful objects that can be found. Give each of your students a handout with two columns – one labeled “Color” and the other labeled “Drawing.”
When you’re outside, have students record the different colors they see and draw the objects that match those colors. Or, you can have your students fill in the colors they’d like to find before going outside so they’re challenged to find objects with those colors. Tell them to get creative! Who knows what they can find in a snow-covered landscape.
10. Scavenger Hunt
Scavenger hunts are always loads of fun. Make a list of items such as pinecones, leafs, rocks, twigs, and animal prints and hand it out to your students. Then, give your students a basket and tell them to go and collect as many items as they can.
You can also add descriptors to the list such as, “something that is brown”, or “something that is smooth”. To engage the students even more, add sounds (“Listen for birds chirping”), smells (“Smell a pine tree”), and feelings (“Feel the snowflakes on your face”) that they can experience in the winter climate. This outdoor play is a great way to provide your students with some physical activity and to engage their observation and sensory skills.
What other outdoor winter activities have you done with preschoolers? If you often bring students outdoor in winter, what tips can you share with other teachers?