Interacting with nature is the perfect hands-on activity, even in winter. The following activities are just the thing to chase away the winter blues while enhancing learning.
Catch a Falling Snowflake—On a snowy day, chill a sheet of black construction paper in the freezer for about 30 minutes. Take the paper and a magnifying glass outdoors. Catch snowflakes on the paper, and then have your children examine it with a magnifying glass. Explain that all snowflakes have six sides, yet each snowflake is uniquely shaped.
Make Big Tracks—For this project you will need a piece of heavy cardboard or a couple of foam trays, a crayon, some string and a good pair of scissors. On the cardboard or foam trays, have your child draw a pair of big feet. Imagine that they are the feet of a bear, an elephant, or even a dinosaur. Cut out the shapes. Punch a hole in either side of each “foot” and thread some string through the holes. After the next snowfall, tie the big feet onto each child’s feet and let him go outdoors to make tracks. While you are out, be sure to look for real animal tracks in the snow.
Feed the Birds—A seed basket made from a hollowed out grapefruit is one of the easiest bird feeders for young children to make. Just cut a grapefruit in half. Scoop out the pulp from one half. Punch two holes in the grapefruit on opposite sides. Thread a piece of yarn through the holes to make a basket handle. Fill the basket with birdseed, sunflower seeds, breadcrumbs, or corn kernels and hang from a tree.
Fool Mother Nature—In late winter, invite the children to help you cut some spring-flowering branches to bring indoors. Look for branches with lots of buds. Forsythia, dogwood, apple, honeysuckle, and pussy willow work well. Crush the cut ends of the branches and place them in a vase of warm water. Be sure the branches get lots of sunlight and in two or three days they should bloom. Presto! It’s springtime!
Bury a Treasure—Encourage the children to draw a treasure map to represent the child care program. Include landmarks such as playgrounds, fences, trees, bushes, etc. Next, plant a variety of spring-flowering bulbs such as crocuses, tulips, hyacinths, or daffodils in different spots around the center. As each bulb gets planted, the children mark its place on the map with an X. Cut out pictures of the flowers from the bulb packages and glue them onto the map as a key.
Donna Johnson is the editor of Your Big Backyard, a monthly nature magazine for children ages three to six published by the National Wildlife Federation.