No need to save all those jars of bubble solution you’ve got around for summer! They’re fun to use now—and a mini science lesson at the same time. Here’s what to do:
1. Pick a day that is below 32°F and not windy. (It has to be below freezing for the bubbles to, you know, freeze.)
2. Put your container of bubbles outside to chill for a little bit before heading out—not so long that it freezes, though.
3. Blow a bubble, catch it on the bubble wand, and wait for a few seconds or a few minutes, depending on how cold it is. It will freeze into a magical-looking crystal ball!
4. You can also try blowing bubbles straight up in the air (rather than catching them on the wand) and watch them freeze midflight. This works especially well on a really cold day.
Snowshoeing allows your kids to explore your favorite hiking spots in a completely new way, and you can get them pretty inexpensively at secondhand sports stores. When my kids were little, we bought them Tubbs Snowflake snowshoes ($40), which have plastic grippers on the bottom, rather than metal ones, and are really easy to put on—great, because after getting them all bundled up, the last thing you want is to wrestle with more gear. They were a huge hit! A few things you can do while you’re tromping around:
1. Challenge your kids to find as many different kinds of animal tracks as they can. Bonus points if they can match the footprint to the critter that made it. (Not sure? Snap a photo and look it up later.)
2. Bring binoculars and do some bird spotting. Not exactly a birder? Me neither. So I downloaded Audubon’s free Bird Guide app, which helps you ID the species you’re looking at.
3. Play games you’d normally bring to the beach, such as Frisbee or paddleball. The hilarious irony will not be lost on your kiddos, which makes it that much more fun.
Remember that old-school science-fair project? This snowy version uses the same explosioninducing ingredients—all of which you probably have in your pantry. Round up the kiddies and build your own lava-spewing volcanoes. Warning: My kids had such a blast making one after another that our yard looked like a crime scene by the time they were done.
What You'll Need: A small, narrow plastic cup or old pill bottle, baking soda, dishwashing liquid, red food coloring, vinegar
What To Do:
1. Nestle the cup in the center of a pile of snow and mound more snow around it to form a volcano shape. (Leave the top of the cup exposed.)
2. Add a few spoonfuls of baking soda, one spoonful of dishwashing liquid, and some food coloring to the cup.
3. Now pour in a big splash of vinegar and watch the eruption!
They’re more fun than your basic snowman and even easier to create: Pick up a bunch of glow sticks from a dollar store, then get your outdoor gear on and make big mounds of snow just before dusk. Poke two holes for the monster’s eyes and place a lit-up glow stick in each hole. (Depending on the type you get, you might need to use more than one per eye.) Cover the hole lightly with snow, so you can still see its glowing eyes.
Known as “fatties,” these bicycles are outfitted with wide tires and rugged treads that can handle snowy roads and trails. And while they’re pricey to buy, many bike stores, ski resorts, and mountain-biking areas rent them. Bikes with fat tires ride a bit differently than regular bikes—pretty much the equivalent of running in the sand—so you’ll definitely get a workout. But they’re unique in that they can roll over almost anything. (Trust me, my kids have tried!) On a warmish day, hit a bike path or do a little off-roading to get some fresh air.
What would winter be without sledding? You can put a fresh spin on this classic by going sled bowling. (Yes, you read that right.) Make snowballs and set them up like pins at the base of a hill, then zoom down and see who can knock the most over. Or how about a sledding relay race? Divide into two teams, and mark a start and finish line. Then have one racer from each team whiz down to the bottom and hand off the sled to the next person—who must dash up the hill and sled down. First team over the finish line wins! Of course, you’ll need some speedy sleds. So I asked a pro—Christopher Stockdale, Ph.D., an associate professor of physics at Marquette University in Milwaukee—which kind works best. He suggests going for one with a smooth, hard plastic base, as opposed to a sled with runners or an inflatable tube. It gives you maximum contact with the snow, which means less friction and better glide. My kids are obsessed with these Zipfy sleds ($41). They’re light, portable, and fast, and they’re easy to steer and stop. Bonus: They come in a ton of cheery colors and are virtually indestructible. (Ours have survived many an exposed rock and root.) And, yes, we do recommend wearing helmets while sledding!
Your little know-it-all may have heard that no two snowflakes are alike; now prove it. For up-close examination, catch flakes on some dark fabric (chill it in the freezer for ten minutes to keep the snow from melting), then observe the crystalline shapes through a magnifying glass.
Stage a funny photo shoot by constructing a snowman with stick arms, coal buttons, and a scarf -- but no head! Then grab a camera and take silly shots of your kids posing with their face where the snowman's should be. (Once you're done snapping, top off ol' Frosty.)
Set the scene for a pretend cuppa by constructing a child-size table and chairs out of snow. Tightly pack a large plastic tub and a few 5-gallon buckets with snow; let harden overnight. Next, flip the tub over to release the snow (this will be the table) and do the same with the buckets, arranging them as seats. Then let your kids sit down to enjoy teatime!
Take a nature walk and identify the animal footprints you see. A few hints from Jonah Evans, wildlife-diversity biologist for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department: A symmetrical track with four toes, large claws, and a small heel pad probably came from a canine (think a dog or a fox), while asymmetrical tracks with four toes, a relatively large heel pad, and no claws may indicate a feline (like a house cat or a lynx). Two-toed, heart-shaped tracks usually signal deer, while five-toed tracks that look like tiny human handprints may be from a raccoon. Or, you can find a cozy spot in a nearby park to quietly watch and listen for birds.
Try this twist on hide-and-seek: Tie a piece of white fabric (or a white sock or T-shirt) to the end of a stick. Then have your kids cover their eyes while you hide the "flag," sticking it somewhere in the snow. Yell "Go!" and the hunt is on; the lucky kid who finds the flag first gets to place it for the next round.
Organize your own Winter Olympics: First, construct an obstacle course by packing snow into different-size mounds that kids can jump over, scramble around, or weave through as you time them. Next, pair up your little ones up for a snowball roll-off (whoever makes the biggest snowball wins). Finally, end with a snowball toss to see who can throw the farthest.
Using a hole punch, equally space four holes around the top edge of a plastic cup. Thread string through one hole and out the hole on the opposite side. Use a second piece of string on the remaining holes, then tie them together to form a hanger. Poke a tiny hole in the bottom of the cup with a needle, then thread 6 inches of string through it, knotting both ends. Before bedtime, let kids fill the cups with juice, then hang them from a tree branch outside; by morning, the liquid should have trickled out of the pinhole and down the string, freezing into a yummy-tasting icicle.
Snow is made of H2O; explore its properties with an easy experiment: Have kids fill two identical microwavable dishes with snow -- one powdery, the other tightly packed. Ask them to guess how much liquid would be left if the snow melted, then pop the dishes into the microwave to get the answer.
Don't get much white stuff in your area? Try these fun ways to celebrate winter -- sans blizzard.
Imagine a Storm
Kids can dream up their own snowy scenes by drawing on black or navy-blue construction paper with white crayons, oil pastels, or colored pencils. For a final touch, help them add a layer of clear glitter to capture snow's spectacular sparkle.
Put on a Performance
Whip up adorable snowman puppets by stacking two or three marshmallows onto the pointy end of a chopstick and then pushing a few sprinkles into the top 'mallow to create a face (chocolate for the eyes, orange for the "carrot' nose!). Before your little ones get tempted to eat their sweet snowmen, encourage them to bring on the drama with a little dessert theater.
Gather 'Round the Fire
Create an excuse for everyone to cuddle up under some warm blankets by heading to a local beach or park at twilight and building a campfire. Don't forget to take along a few flashlights and a thermos of cocoa to ward off any post-sundown chill.