Science is Snow Much Fun!

February 8, 2018

Winter weather is here. Most of us have had snow this year – yes, even here in Mississippi! It's beautiful to look at, especially for children as they marvel at the wonder falling around them. How do snowflakes form? What do snowflakes look like close up – are they identical or different? What temperature does it have to be for snow to fall? These are all questions that can lead to some great classroom discussions and activities. I recently had the opportunity to visit my grandson's 4-year Kindergarten class on "Snow Day". Keep in mind, here in Mississippi, we do not get a lot of snow, so we have to be creative when having a learning "Snow Day"! 

Snowflake is actually a general term that we use instead of saying ice crystal. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website, "A snowflake begins to form when an extremely cold water droplet freezes onto a pollen or dust particle in the sky. This creates an ice crystal. As the ice crystal falls to the ground, water vapor freezes onto the primary crystal, building new crystals – the six arms of the snowflake."   

It is said that no two snowflakes are alike. They all have a familiar, six-sided pattern, but none are identical. As a snowflake falls, the atmospheric conditions affecting the ice crystal causes it to begin to grow arms in one manner, then a slight change in the temperature or humidity can cause it to grow in another way. No matter the atmospheric conditions, the six-sided shape is always maintained, and because each arm of the ice crystal experiences the same conditions, the arms look identical. However, because each individual ice crystal follows a slightly different path from the sky to the ground, slightly different atmospheric conditions are encountered causing each ice crystal to have its own unique look. 

According to the National Snow & Ice Data Center, for snow to form, the atmospheric temperature has to be at or below freezing (32°F or 0°C) with a minimum amount of moisture in the air. For snow to reach the ground, the ground temperature also needs to be at or below freezing. "However," as stated on their website, "the snow can still reach the ground when the ground temperature is above freezing if the conditions are just right. As a general rule, though, snow will not form if the ground temperature is at least 41°F (5°C)."

I think we all agree that no matter how old we are, snow is exciting. Knowing the science of snow, as to how the snowflakes form, makes it even more special. As I said earlier, I recently attended my grandson's 4-year Kindergarten class for "Snow Day." Students (and teachers) wore their pajamas to school to start the fun. Although it was cold that day, the atmospheric conditions were not suitable for real snow. Therefore, we had to get creative and make our own. Mrs. Jennifer and Mrs. Leigh, the K-4 teachers, were very creative with activities for them. As I walked through the door, I was immediately attacked with "snowballs" that thankfully were soft and do not melt. As you can imagine, the kids loved it! 

As an introduction to learning about snow, we passed around photos of magnified snowflakes, so the children could see the six arms of a snowflake, as well as photos of snow activities. Then, Mrs. Jennifer and Mrs. Leigh helped as we "made snow" with the students. For this activity, we used Insta-Snow powder from First, we used magnifying glasses to examine the Insta-Snow powder and discuss characteristics of it. Then, using 1 teaspoon of the Insta-Snow powder and pouring 2 oz. of water onto the powder, the children were amazed as, within seconds, the liquid/powder mixture turned into a solid, then magically erupted into a fluffy white, snow-like material. The Insta-Snow powder is an absorbent polymer that absorbs the water and expands up to 100 times its original volume. Once we got over the excitement, we talked about the characteristics of our "snow" after adding the water. It is white in color and even feels cold when you touch it which makes it seem even more like snow. During our learning experience with the Insta-Snow, we also enjoyed looking at and talking about different methods of transportation in snow. We had some snow skis, a snow sled, and some snowshoes for them to see up close. 

Following the Insta-Snow, Mrs. Jennifer and Mrs. Leigh had other fun activities for them including ice skating (paper plates under their feet), playing and creating fun art with shaving creme, and they enjoyed a good snow movie to end the day. Even their snacks had a snow theme! Overall, the students had a great day of fun while learning about snow! 

If you have "Snow Days" in your classroom, we would love for you to share ideas and any photos that you can on our Science Scene Facebook page.

Stephanie Miller

With over 25 years experience, Stephanie serves as a senior copywriter, social media director, and senior editor for Science Scene. Stephanie is always on the lookout for new educational and STEM-related opportunities and technology.