“Children are like wet cement. Whatever falls on them makes an impression.” ~Dr. Haim Ginott
I live somewhere between the east coast and the midwest so snow is always in abundance during winter. One of the components of our state standards is to observe/discuss changes that happen in nature over time. Winter is a great time to work on this strand. I think the most important thing we can do for children during the early childhood years is to give them real experiences. Not sort-of real experiences, real ones. We could stay inside and talk about snow as we look at it out the window or make paper snowflakes, but that wouldn’t be very real. The motto of every classroom I have ever been in has always been that I will never do something just because it is “cute”. It needs to be developmentally appropriate and provide a real experience for the students. I also however, cannot spend the entire day outside in the snow with my students. So here is what we do:
Since we are going to be spending time outside and working with snow, we always make a crock pot of hot cocoa in the morning. Students help measure and pour in the water and chocolate. We leave it on low and then get started with out activity.
I write “Snow is…” on the board/chart paper. I have my students give me as many words or phrases as they can to define snow. We also talk about how snow feels, smells, etc. This is a great way to get prior knowledge, but also gets them ready/excited for the next activities. We discuss the list as a class and then the students put on their coats, gloves, mittens. (I send a letter home a few days prior letting parents know we are going to be going outside for a bit and to send their child in warm clothes that day). Once we are all bundled up, we head outside with our shovels, buckets, clipboards, and pencils.
Students are assigned cooperative groups and work together to collect snow. I usually group students in groups of three: one to shovel, one to count how many scoops of snow are going in the bucket, and one to tally how many scoops of snow went in the bucket. Once all of the buckets are full, we come back inside and head back down to our room.
After students get off all of their winter gear, they have to document how much snow is in their bucket. They have many options as to how to do this. They can draw a picture of it, measure it using non-standard measurement, use a ruler, use the scales in the room, draw a picture of it in comparison to another object in the room, etc. After this students are required to write something under their picture. For preschoolers invented spelling is encouraged, but if the student is not yet ready to write I write their dictation with a highlighter and they trace the letters. For kindergartners, invented spelling is encouraged. If the words are hard to decipher, I usually write the words underneath it. For first grade on up, emphasis can be on grammar, punctuation, writing a paragraph, etc. We then sit in a large group and students report their results. We discuss how much snow is in each bucket and talk about quantitative words like more, less, most, full, empty, etc.
Now that we have documented how much snow we have, we dump all of the buckets of snow into a sensory table. Students take turns painting the snow using Discount School Supply’s Liquid Watercolor. (I highly recommend this product, it is fantastic and there are so many uses for it. You can check out their website here:
After the snow is painted, students check back every half hour-hour (depending on the daily schedule) and document the changes that are taking place. Eventually at the end of the day, the students will have a few documentation pages. We use this information on a later date for students to make their own snow book.
At the end of the day, we sit in a large group again and students share what they learned. If students are old enough, they write what they learned during a shared writing experience, if not, I record their dictations. Students then get a cup of the hot cocoa we made earlier. They get to add marshmallows if they want and we end the day reading The Snowy Day by Jack Ezra Keats. We compare and contrast our snowy day with Peter’s.
I have used these activities with students in grades preschool through second. What makes a difference is how the activities are expanded for each grade level. As you can see there are many places you can go with this activity, while hitting a multitude of standards. This activity can be as differentiated and individualized as you make it. Students are given a choice of how they want to document. Most importantly however, students are being given a very real experience. By using a real experience to help students learn about states of matter, measurement, volume, etc, it makes the learning more meaningful to them.
Have a blessed week all! Until the next time…