Snow Play

by Diann Gano

The winter months offer a veritable blizzard of learning opportunities, so don't give up on your outdoor adventures at the first sign of falling temperatures and falling snow.

Let's take a quick look at a few of the learning adventures that you can enjoy with your child as we explore the winter landscape.


Is the weather person predicting freezing temperatures and the possibility of snow? Now is the time to pull your child's sand toys out of the sandbox before they become frozen in the sand.

Once you've retrieved the sand toys, repurpose them as winter snow molds! It's a great way to incorporate STEAM concepts such as shape and dimension into your winter play.

This cold-weather activity introduces children to engineering design and the scientific practice of modeling as they work through their ideas in the snow. By playing, investigating and exploring, your young snow sculptor will gain an understanding of core scientific concepts.

When children incorporate simple sandbox tools into their snow play, they can compare the properties of sand and snow and discover that some sand activities may not work with wet or powdery snow. This will lead to more STEAM investigations and more learning opportunities.

Muffin, cake and bread pans from your kitchen will also open doors to endless hours of creative outdoor play.


There's a lot of science and math in those icicles!

Every winter, I grab the longest icicle I can find and let it melt into an empty glass. This enables children to observe the melting process while we discuss the difference between indoor and outdoor temperatures.

We also discuss why our body temperature is warmer than the outdoor temperature and why we can see our breath in the cold winter air.

When the icicle has completely melted, I point out the dirt and gunk that had previously been frozen into this seemingly pristine piece of ice. But that won't deter our children from sucking on "nature's popsicles."

Children learn through their senses—and I gave up the battle of trying to stop them from sucking on icicles and eating snow years ago. It's all part of the magic of winter learning.


Building an igloo is easy—and there are so many engineering and physics learning opportunities that come into play.

We use large plastic bins to mold the snow into big blocks—and the igloo building takes a lot less time than you might imagine.

If you're lucky enough to get packable snow early in the season, there is a good chance that your igloo could last for a month or more. One word of caution: This lovely source of wind protection also takes a while to melt, so build it in a location where it won't interfere with other activities. You could be living with this winter fort for longer than you think!

Because igloos become softer in the afternoon sun, we often redesign our igloo during the day, adding colors and water before leaving it to refreeze overnight. An igloo is well worth the investment of time and energy.


Take a hike! Even in familiar places like your neighborhood or a local schoolyard, life looks different during the winter months. When we head out for these winter walking adventures, I introduce new vocabulary words such as "hike" or "adventure" or "excursion."

Research shows that vocabulary building at an early age fosters future success in reading and narrows the achievement gap.

As you hike with your child, your efforts to introduce concepts such as patternsreflectionsblack icehibernation and wind-chill factors will lead to later learning opportunities back in the classroom.


Oh boy! What a bonanza of science vocabulary we have here, with speed and force and distance!

For younger children, we introduce simple vocabulary words such as up and down the hill. Who went the farthest? Who wiped out the fastest?  

We gather and analyze data as the children experiment with different routes, techniques and combinations of sled buddies. We don't always have access to real hills—and there have been years when my child just couldn't handle a walk to the park and sledding.

But don't rule out that large pile of snow that the plow has pushed up at the end of the parking lot. It may be man-made, and it may be small, but it's a hill nonetheless.

Kids just love taking small risks such as climbing up and sliding down. Last winter, I watched a three-year-old and a four-year-old spend 20 minutes trying to stay upright while sliding on their boots down an 18-inch "hill."

It doesn't take much of an incline to open doors to learning!


We often discover animal tracks in the snow during our outdoor investigations. We occasionally find paw prints from a raccoon or hoof prints from a deer, but most of the tracks we find are made by neighborhood cats and dogs, as well as squirrels and birds.

This tracking activity never gets old. We try to follow their routes while making observations and forming theories.

Curiosity, persistence, questioning and problem-solving are the traits of a true scientist. These real-life scientific adventures represent age-appropriate learning at its finest!

After the cold-weather fun is over, serve up a comforting cup of hot cocoa, apple cider or mint tea. If you've been outside for a while, a hearty cup of soup will chase away the winter chill and refuel your little STEAM explorers.

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