Friday, February 5, 2010

Ten Tips for Celebrating Snow Days

With the forecast for much of the United States calling for snow sometime in the next week, I thought I'd re-post these ten tips for making the most of snow days. (This post is excerpted from my original article, which was published in Washington Parent magazine in January 2007.)

The forecast is grim: snow, snow, and more snow. What are you going to do all day? Before you go stir-crazy, try these ten tips for turning a snow day into together time:

1. Have an all-white day. Encourage everyone in the house to wear white. Prepare your family all-white meals like oatmeal with milk for breakfast and chicken breast, mashed potatoes and cauliflower for dinner.

2. Make snow-themed treats together. Bake your favorite cookies and add a dusting of powdered sugar "snow" on top. Make marshmallow snowmen using candies for eyes, raisins for buttons and pretzel sticks for arms.

3. Read about Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley. Virginia mom Karen Cole, founder of Big Learning, suggests the book Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and the Snowflake Bentley website. In 1885, Bentley became the first person to photograph individual snowflakes; in his lifetime, he took pictures of more than 5,000 different snowflakes (including the picture at the top of this post!).

4. Have a snow-inspired movie marathon. Bring out snowy family favorites like Ice Age and March of the Penguins. To increase the educational value, break out the encyclopedias or hop on the Internet to learn about glaciation or the continent of Antarctica. Be glad that you don't live at Vostok Station in Antarctica, where the coldest recorded temperature on Earth was observed on July 21, 1983 (-128.6°F / -89.2°C).

5. Conduct scientific experiments with snow.

"Even though freshly fallen snow appears bright white and clean, it is not," says Dr. Joseph M. Moran of the American Meteorological Society. Dr. Moran is the author of a brand new textbook, Climate Studies: Introduction to Climate Science.

"One of my favorite activities goes a long way to convincing children not to eat snow. You will need a 1- or 2-gallon pail, large paper coffee filter, paper towels, and a magnifying glass … Scoop up a large pail of freshly fallen snow and bring it indoors to a warm room. Set the pail down undisturbed until all the snow melts. Then, over a sink, slowly and carefully pour the meltwater through a paper coffee filter. Set the coffee filter aside on some paper towels until it dries. Next, examine the surface of the dry coffee filter … What do you see? Where did that material come from?"

He adds, "As snowflakes fall through the atmosphere, they intercept and capture a variety of tiny particles that are suspended in the atmosphere and carried by the wind. Most of these particles originated at the Earth's surface. [You can] speculate on what these particles might be."

6. Have your kids play "cool" word games. For example, ask them the following questions: How many words can you think of that start with the word "snow"? (snowflake, snowplow, snowstorm, snowmobile …). How many words can you make from the letters in the word "snowflake"? (sow, now, lake, wake …). For a harder challenge, try making words from the letters in the word "avalanche" (ache, vale, lava, leach, lane …).

7. Try recipes made with snow. (Although, after reading Dr. Moran's comments, you might wish to make your own "snow" by mixing ice from the freezer in your blender!). Scoop up some fresh snow, and mix it with fruit juice to make a snow cone. Or make Snow Cream: Scoop snow into a large bowl, and blend in 1 cup milk or cream, 1/2 cup sugar and a few drops of vanilla. Enjoy!

8. Compete in your version of the Winter Olympic Games. See who can throw a snowball the farthest or sled down a hill the fastest. Stuck indoors? Glide over the kitchen tiles in your socks and have an ice-skating competition.

9. Go outside and examine individual snowflakes.

Dr. Moran says, "This activity requires a sheet of black construction paper or a dark cloth, a magnifying glass, a journal and a pencil. During a snowfall, go outdoors and hold the construction paper or cloth horizontally to catch some snowflakes. Take care that the heat from your breath or fingers does not melt the snowflakes. Using the magnifying glass, examine the individual snowflakes. Describe what [shapes] you see, and draw some of them in your journal. Are any of the snowflakes identical in appearance?"

He notes, "Recording data in a journal is a good introduction to scientific observation and the scientific method."

10. Share your family's favorite snowy memories. Do you remember when you saw snow for the first time? Ever caught a snowflake on your tongue? What was the deepest snowfall that you can remember? You might be surprised at what your family members share with you. Sometimes, a day spent together "doing nothing" turns into a cherished memory.

Photo credit: Wilson Bentley. This picture is part of NOAA's National Weather Service Collection and was taken in 1902.

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