We've definitely been having schizophrenic weather this winter: bone-chilling lows to record highs back to frigid lows in the space of a few days.
It's almost certain we'll have more of those extremely cold days and snow before we see May flowers. On the days when it's freezing or when there's snow on the ground, it takes some effort to keep kids occupied.
Yes, the kids can build snow people, but why don't you have them make use of winter weather for both play and learning opportunities. Here are a few ideas for the next cold or snowy day.
Fill balloons with a few drops of food coloring and water and set the balloons outside to freeze.
After they are frozen, cut the balloons off. You'll have big colored balls of ice that look like giant marbles.
Be warned, it can take awhile for them to freeze solid.
EXPLODING WATER BOTTLE
What happens to water when it freezes?
Fill a plastic bottle with water, stopping about ¼ inch from the top. Replace the cap.
Leave the bottle in a safe place outside for several hours. The bottle will look like it has exploded.
Kids will think “magic” balloons are fun.
Blow up a balloon and tie it closed, then place it outside in the cold. It will deflate.
When you bring the balloon back indoors, it will warm up and re-inflate.
The balloon demonstrates how the volume of gases changes with the temperature.
The temperature should be below freezing for this activity, and there should be no wind. You'll need a wand for creating bubbles.
Make the bubble solution with 2 cups of hot water, 1 cup of liquid dish soap and 1/3 cup of white corn syrup. (Regular bubble solution does not work.)
Take the solution and a bubble wand outside. Blow a bubble and catch it on the end of the wand. Let it stay there in the cold air. It will soon freeze into a fragile crystal ball.
Food coloring can be used to create interesting effects.
Punch a hole in the bottom of a clean empty can; then punch three more holes near the open end of the can (four if you use a coffee can).
Cut four pieces of string, each about 20 inches long. Knot one end of each of the strings. Take three strings and push the unknotted end of each through a corresponding hole at the top of the can. Tie the loose ends together. They form a hanger.
Push the other string through the hole in the bottom of the can, making sure water can drip around it.
Fill the can with water and hang it on a tree limb or somewhere else outside when the temperature is below freezing. The slowly dripping water will form an icicle around the dangling string.
Variations: Plastic pop bottles can be used instead of cans. Use food coloring in the water to produce colorful icicles.
Put water in a variety of containers or ice cube trays. Food coloring is optional but fun. Take the containers outdoors to freeze. When the water has frozen solid, remove from the containers and build interesting sculptures for the yard or porch. Stick pieces together using a little water.
If you have a nice space of undisturbed snow, let the kids put their energies into creative gear. There are a few different methods although the medium is the same.
Mix water with food coloring or liquid watercolor paints. Try painting with a brush, although if realism is the goal, the artist may be unhappy. The paint often freezes on the brush before it can be applied to the snow canvas. Hint: A foam brush works better than a bristle brush.
Adopting the Jackson Pollock style of splatter painting can be effective on snow. The painters may want to cover their outdoor clothing with a plastic poncho or raincoat. Kids can fling their paint off brushes.
Another approach is to adopt the idea of graffiti artists. Instead of using actual spray paint, put the paint mixture in spray bottles. One can use different colors in different bottles and use different size nozzles.
Anyone who has read “Little House on the Prairie” knows about snow candy. It's not too difficult to make.
Mix ½ cup pure maple syrup with 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan. Bring to a boil and let it boil at least 5 minutes. The mixture should reach between 225 degrees and 230 degrees on a candy thermometer.
Drizzle the mixture over clean snow at least a couple of inches deep and let it cool (it doesn't take long). Then it's ready to eat.
Variation: Molasses candy made by mixing ½ cup butter, 2 cups brown sugar, 4 tablespoons molasses, ½ teaspoon vanilla, 2 tablespoons water and 2 tablespoons white vinegar. Bring to a boil over medium heat until it reaches soft ball stage (240 degrees for taffy texture) or hard ball (310 degrees for hard candy).
SNOW ICE CREAM
Another delicious treat. Mix 1 cup milk, ½-1 teaspoon vanilla and ½ cup sugar until the sugar dissolves. Then slowly add the snow, stirring continuously until it has the consistency of ice cream. Then eat, because snow ice cream does not hold up in the freezer.
Variations: Use chocolate milk or sweetened condensed milk, add pureed fruit or substitute rum (adults only) or fruit juice for the vanilla. Make an ice cream soda or a sundae.
One of the most popular things to do when it is extremely cold outside is to fling boiling water in the air and watch it turn to steam or chunks of ice. Do not let your children try this, because accidents resulting in burns have been reported in all age groups.
A safer way is to fill a metal (thermos-type) container with boiling water. Then pour it out and refill the container with hot water. Outside, take a cup of the water and fling it into the air (check the wind direction first). If it's cold enough, the water will vaporize or form crystals in the air.