Saying “goodbye” to warm, sunny days is never easy, especially if you live in a cold climate. While you may feel stuck inside, you and your students can beat cabin fever this winter by embracing the opportunity to explore the natural wonders of the season.
These engaging experiments, activities, and projects will inspire you and your students to brave the snow, ice and cold temperatures. The activities below provide a range of experiences for all levels of students from kindergarten through middle school. Cold-themed investigations explore chemical changes, states of matter, measurement, data collection, animal adaptations, physical properties, and landforms to inspire your students to explore nature’s wonderful white wonders. Many of these activities can be done whether you live in a cold or warm climate!
1. How Much Water is in Snow?
It’s hard to imagine that giant piles of snow contain just a few inches of water. Scientists say thirteen inches of snow is equivalent to one inch of water. Encourage your students to practice using their skills of making predictions, estimates, and measurements by collecting snow for an easy experiment.
For younger children, try a simple investigation with collecting measurements. Adapt this activity to make it more challenging for older children. They will enjoy making predictions about the amount of water in snow and estimating how much snow can be produced with differing amounts of rain.
2. Watch Snowmen Expand While Learning About Chemical Reactions
Using Alka-Seltzer tablets to investigate acid-base reactions is a nice change from the normal baking soda and vinegar reactions. Draw a snowman’s face on a ziptop bag and fill it with snow (or shaved ice if you live in a climate that doesn’t have snow). Add an Alka-Seltzer tablet to the snow and observe the snowman expand over a period of about an hour.
Students can compare reaction times by making several snowmen and placing them in locations with different temperatures (such as the refrigerator, freezer, room temperature and near a source of heat). Older students can find the relationships between temperature and reaction time, and make a line graph to plot their results.
3. Staying Warm in Icy Weather
Surviving a few months of winter is difficult enough for some non-migratory animals. It is hard to imagine how arctic animals make their homes in such frigid climates. Investigate arctic animal adaptations with the hands-on activity for younger children. Start your discussion of arctic adaptations with this video from PBS LearningMedia (Adaptations of Arctic Animals). Then, jump into this activity on polar bear adaptations where young students play dress up with different types of materials that correlate to the polar bears’ adaptations that help them survive in cold climates.
4. Instant Snow
You don’t need to put on your snowsuit to make snowmen with this snow! For a quick and satisfying sensory experience, make “snow” with just two ingredients – baking soda and water. Younger students will enjoy using small plastic animals to make tracks through the snow, or set up an imaginary winter scene. They can also practice spelling words by drawing in the snow with their fingers.
5. Explore the Melting Point of Ice
Navigating icy roads is much safer after salt has been applied. Students can investigate which products are most effective at melting ice through experimentation. Place an ice cube in four separate glasses and sprinkle 1/4 tsp salt, sugar, and sand to three of the ice cubes (do not add anything to the fourth one as it is the control). Observe the melting times of the ice cubes and discuss why some ice cubes melted faster than others. Older students will appreciate this video explanation of “How Salt Melts Ice.”
You can add to this experiment by testing different substances, using different amounts of the substances, and observing the ice cubes melting in warmer or colder temperatures to see how these factors affect the melting times.
6. Sticky Ice
Students will be amazed by this simple experiment that allows you to pick ice cubes up with a string. When the amazement wears off, explain the amazingly simple science behind the trick. This activity would fit well with learning about states of matter, melting points, physical changes, and chemical changes. You could also compare the effectiveness of different types of salt (table salt, kosher salt, rock salt) and ice melt.
7. Make Frost
Take your exploration of states of matter one step further by making frost on a jar. Condensation appearing on the outside of glasses is a mystery all children want to solve. Use this activity with a lesson on chemical reactions, condensation, and states of matter. Students could also make predictions and test other ingredients, such as sugar, baking soda, or different types of salt.
8. Watercolors and Ice Blocks
Combine art with chemistry with beautiful creations by adding watercolors to blocks of ice. Add salt to different areas to make divets and patterns in the ice blocks, and add your own colors with liquid watercolors or food coloring. The crevices created by adding salt and watercolors make a beautiful pattern in the ice blocks. This is a fun way to incorporate art and science as an introduction to melting points!
9. Simulate an Avalanche
Students will have a blast learning about avalanches and landslides with Discovery Education’s hands-on simulation. Students place a book on a wood plank, lifting the plank until the book begins to slide. They should record the angle or height of the plank when the book begins to slide. Students make predictions and test different variables by changing the slope and types of lubrication. Then they add different kinds of materials such as talcum powder, sand, and marbles between the book and the plank and record the height of the board when the book begins to slip. Afterward, discuss why the book slipped at different heights and how this experiment relates to avalanches and landslides.
This activity would fit nicely into a unit on forces, friction, and lubricants. BBC Earth Unplugged has an excellent video, “What Causes Avalanches,” explaining the conditions necessary for avalanches. Extend the learning with a video about avalanches from PBS LearningMedia’s short video, “How Do Avalanches Form.”
10. Catch Snowflakes
If you live in an area that snows, try catching snowflakes and examine their image with a magnifying glass. Students can observe the number of sides snowflakes have and classify their shape. With some hairspray and a glass slide, you can preserve the image of the snowflake and observe it long after the snow has melted.
11. Snowflake Physics
Each snowflake is unique. Explore the molecular structure and formation of snowflakes, then head over to PBS LearningMedia for ideas on how to integrate the physics of snowflakes into your science and math classes. Students can also learn to classify snowflakes based on their shape, while learning about the famous photographer Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley who perfected the art of capturing the beauty of snowflakes before they vanished.
12. Frozen Bubbles
If you live in an area with temperatures below freezing, students will enjoy watching frost patterns form on bubbles. Before heading outside, ask students to make a prediction about what will happen when you blow bubbles in freezing temperatures. You can use regular bubble solution or make a stronger version with corn syrup. If you are able to catch any frozen bubbles before they break, ask students to examine and sketch the crystal pattern that forms on the outside of the bubble.
13. Winter Scavenger Hunt
Kids love exploring the outdoors in every season. They will forget all about their cold toes with the fun scavenger hunts:
- This simple “Outdoor Winter Scavenger Hunt” has pictures for young children, and encourages them to look up, down, and around to find objects all around them.
- For a sensory experience, check out this “Winter Scavenger Hunt” where young students can search for things to listen to, smell, and feel.
- Turn your “Winter Scavenger Hunt” into a photo opportunity with this activity
- Inspire nature detectives with this “Winter Scavenger Hunt” with this tree-themed scavenger hunt
14. Winter-Themed Unit
Exploring winter science themes doesn’t need to be restricted to just one experiment or activity! Pull together various subjects with a winter-themed unit or project-based learning opportunities. Check out these websites to get started:
- Exploratorium pulled together “Cool Experiments for a Hot Day”
- Science Sparks has “Ice Experiments”
- Beyond Polar Bears and Penguins will inspire you with their large collection of activities
- STEAM Powered Family has a curated list of “Winter STEM Activities”
Which winter-themed activity or experiment are you going to try with your students?