Snowflakes Across the Curriculum

We love snow.  When we lived in Central Oregon – we were delighted with each snowfall.  Living now in Northern California, we don’t get to enjoy as often.  Mount Shasta is just far enough away that it would be a full day outing if we desired to go skiing whereas Mount Bachelor was near enough, we could go for just a few hours and still have time enough in the day for other errands or activities.  The first year we lived here, sadly, there was very little snowfall – even at Shasta.

Mt. Shasta shrouded in clouds as viewed from our deck.

When the snow fell this week – we were both delighted and heartbroken.  My father, brother, and sister-in-law were planning to drive down to spend the weekend with us for Christmas.  I-5 was closed off and on all through the end of the week and through the weekend. Even with chains, the delays and closures forced them to stay home.  As a small consolation, the kids and I chose to curl up with a few holiday books and do a little nature study to take advantage of the snow fall which coordinated perfectly with the Outdoor Hour Winter Snowflake Challenge.

Science Literature

One of the books we read was Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin. We’ve read it before but I learned that Buddy didn’t remember it so it was a new discovery for him (not surprising when you read my previous post and discover what what he was focused on that day).  Winner of the 1999 Caldecott Medal, it tells the story of Wilson Bentley.

From the time he as a small boy, he saw snowflakes as tiny miracles and was determined to capture these small wonders on film. His work and dedication revealed two things – no two snowflakes are alike and each one is based on a six-pointed crystal.

After the story, we watched a Brain-Pop video on snowflakes and googled snowflake images.  We had wanted to capture a few flakes to observe under the microscope, but it had stopped snowing by now and the snow on the ground was wet, melting off by early afternoon.  We noted, therefore, that we had an easier time illustrating snowflakes than Bentley would have.

Nature Journaling

We recorded in our journal that since the angle that the individual atoms in water form is 104°, ice freezes into a roughly hexagonal molecular lattice. This six-sided crystalline shape is reflected into the snowflake’s overall shape, causing snowflakes to have a 6-fold symmetry.  Here is a fun video from Khan Academy to help illustrate this fact, Snowflakes, Starflakes, and Swirlflakes.

Our nature journal entries … sadly, the image is not very clear. 

Coincidentally, we had created numerous paper snowflakes earlier in the week to send to Sandy Hook Elementary School.  Members of the school PTA are coordinating an effort to convert the new school students and staff of Sandy Hook will be housed in after the holiday break into a winter wonderland.

I love that as unschoolers, we were able to “seize the moment” and thoroughly integrate our curricular studies:  nature, science, writing, literature, biography, math, art, and service learning.  It was indeed a full day of learning but took only an hour or so of actual clock time.

The Study of Snow for Young Learners

On Tuesday, our Roots & Shoots club gathered in our room with the intention of studying the science of snow. Unfortunately, it hasn’t snowed in some time and we didn’t  have much of a snowpack to observe. I thereby had to make some modifications to my original plan.

Young girl examining fresh snowflakes on a black piece of paper

Capturing freshly fallen snow

Connecting Literature

After everyone arrived, I gathered the kids on the carpet and read aloud a favorite book, Snowflake Bentley. It is a rather lengthy story but most everyone was attentive and engrossed in the story. Everyone that is, except Buddy, who was much more interested in demonstrating his skills as a train engineer and Polar Express enthusiast. “Choo Choooooooooo!” he exclaimed loudly as he ran circles around the house. It took a little while to get him quiet – I was a little embarrassed – but he made us all chuckle.  [ One of the true joys of homeschooling diverse ages of children. ]

After the story, we got the wiggles out and then sat down in the office where I showed a short video clip which explained how snowflakes are formed. For most of the kiddos, I’m sure it went over their heads – but it was exposure and if nothing else, they will understand that snow is made of tiny crystals, none of which are exactly alike.

I then showed part of a second clip… which explained how to go about studying snow. I encouraged everyone to give it a try at home when it snowed again. I gave the adults a few handouts to take home.

A young girl captures snow as it's falling onto black contrasting paper

Art & Writing Activity

I then gathered everyone around the dining room table and showed them how to make paper snowflakes. I was surprised that most of the kids had never done this before so it was a delight. I had templates with valentine themed patterns (hearts, of course) to make it easier. I also encouraged everyone to create their own designs.

I didn’t anticipate the difficulty that some would have cutting into the thick layers of paper, however. Everyone, therefore, created at least one snowflake, but only the more experienced with scissors chose to make more.Sweetie loved it as I knew she would. The following day she continued to make snowflakes and we were able to create a curtain or arch in one doorway. See her post, Snow Haiku, for a visual as well as a haiku she wrote later that day.

Hands-on Snow Study

Fortunately, it snowed again on Sunday so my kiddos were able to get out and do the snow study as shown in the video. I hope others did as well. We didn’t bother to count the number of each type of snow crystal – but we did, in fact identify a number of them including: Hexagonal Plates, Stellar Plates, and Capped Columns. We thereafter spent time sketching each in our nature journals. We recorded the outdoor temperature was 20 degrees, no wind.

Submitted to Barb’s Winter Nature Study :: Snow 25th January 2009.