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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Snow, Glorious Snow!

After a frigid and nearly snowless January, a freshly laid blanket of white was a welcome addition to winter at Forest School last Friday. The fluffy white powder provided students with ample opportunity for fun, cooperation, and learning. Excitement brimmed when the group discovered they would build a winter shelter together; a snow cave or quinzhee as it is sometimes called.

But first, given that making snow angels is a favorite winter activity among kids, a large circle was laid out in the snow and students conducted an experiment to find out how many snow angles it would take to fill the space. Children delighted as they got right down in the fluff, flapped their arms and legs, and checked out the multitude of interestingly textured angle prints. Over 27 prints made by 7 people big and small were tallied.

At snack time, students listened with wide eyes to a story, Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, and discovered fascinating things about the formation and properties of snowflakes. This lead to an “I wonder” discussion about what happens to snowflakes when they’re moved or disturbed and why do snow piles made in this way seem to “freeze” and become easy to carve after being left for a while? The very cool word "sinter" was introduced, meaning the product of something naturally fused together

In the spirit of play, exercising cooperative social skills, and using a multitude of creative methods, the children set to work amassing a large pile of snow close to deer camp to create their snow cave.

Several students chose to bring a wheelbarrow along thinking it would be a fine tool for moving snow. Indeed!
Assessing the pile.

While we waited for the pile to sinter during lunch, we talked about hibernating animals and the insulating properties of snow. In particular, we imagined black bear mothers giving birth in their dens to blind, nearly hairless cubs in the middle of January (brrr!) and the cubs making their way to their mother’s milk source.  One child asked, “How does a cub find the milk if it can’t see?” Great question! We then turned our attention to the mounted black bear beside us, looked at its rather long nose, and imagined the cub sniffing its way. Some children then acted out the process! What a great way to embody learning.

Back at our snow pile, we transformed the mound into a “porcupine” by pushing in foot long sticks gathered previously. The sticks would enable us to maintain the proper wall thickness and stability when carving from the inside.

Everyone took turns digging out the mound with feet or hands.
More digging!

As the group patiently took turns excavating and looked on with eager anticipation, their eyes grew round as I shared a story of building and sleeping in a large 6 person quinzhee deep in the Adirondacks during a blizzard. 

When the quinzhee was complete, the entrance was deemed the porcupine’s mouth and eyes were promptly fashioned out of snow.

Hibernating bear emerging from her den.

After a great day of cooperative engagement, everyone got to reap the reward of hard work, snuggle up inside, and imagine themselves a bear sleeping for the winter.

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