Break the Ice

Standard Met: McREL Science Standard 12 (Understands the nature of scientific inquiry)
What You Need: Milk or juice containers, small plastic animals, salt, kid-safe tools (e.g., spoons, toy hammers), spray bottles

What to Do: Betsy Kortenkamp, a PreK teacher in southern Wisconsin, creates an ice block filled with miniature plastic toys, like dinosaurs and mammoths. Her students’ mission: to figure out the best tools for freeing the objects. A big discovery is made when they sprinkle salt on the ice. “Suddenly the ice begins to crack! They can’t believe that salt can do that to ice,” says Kortenkamp. “The kids also enjoy spraying warm water on their ice blocks to get the ice melting."

To create your own ice block, fill a cardboard milk or juice container with water and small plastic toys. Stick it in the freezer overnight. The next day, simply peel off the cardboard and you’ll have the perfect-size ice block.

Blubber Bags

Standard Met: McREL Science Standard 6 (Understands relationships among organisms and physical environment)
What You Need: Vegetable oil, two sandwich bags, one freezer bag, large bowl of ice water

What to Do: In Kortenkamp’s classroom, students experience how some animals beat the cold. Kortenkamp fills two sandwich bags with oil, seals them, and puts them in the freezer bag. She asks students to put one hand inside the freezer bag, between the two smaller bags. Then, students dip both hands, one in the bag and one bare, into the bowl of ice water. “I ask them which hand is warmer and the kids are always amazed,” she says. “They learn that the oil is like the fat that keeps animals warm.” A twist on this experiment is to coat a child’s finger with a thick layer of vegetable shortening, then have her immerse the bare and the coated finger in ice water at the same time.

What Will Freeze?

Standard Met: McREL Science Standard 8 (Understands the structure and properties of matter)
What You Need: Paper cups (4 per student), cookie sheet, substances such as water, liquid soap, and honey

What to Do: For Karen Cox, a teacher at Lee County PreK in Leesburg, Georgia, winter is the perfect time to teach kids about the changing states of matter. So she has her students test out what types of liquid will freeze. “You can experiment with many different things, but I’ve used four: water, liquid soap, vanilla pudding, and honey,” says Cox. Other fun options include chocolate syrup, apple juice, and milk.

Give each student four paper cups and allow them to place the substances in the cups. Help them label the outside of each cup with the name of the substance it contains.

Ask students to touch each substance and make a prediction: Will it freeze or not? Then, put the cups on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer overnight. The next day, bring out the cups and allow children to touch each one again to see whether or not it froze. Ask students what they noticed about the substances that did not freeze. (Hint: They are usually thicker!)

The Disappearing Water

Standard Met: McREL Science Standard 1 (Understands atmospheric processes and the water cycle)
What You Need: Clear plastic cups (2 per student), water, sunny window

What To Do: Most kids know that snow melts. But what happens to the leftover puddles? Jennie Higgins, a kindergarten teacher at Jefferson Primary School in Huntington, New York, gives her students a chance to play detective with an evaporation experiment.

Give students two clear plastic cups. Have them fill each halfway with water and draw a line to mark the level. Place one set of cups in a shady spot outside. Put the other set in a sunny spot near a window. Have students draw what they observe happening in their cups for three days. On the last day, have them predict what caused water in the sunny area to dissipate, and determine whether water evaporates more quickly in warm weather or cold weather and why.

To extend the lesson and see the water cycle in action, provide each student with a medium-size clear plastic jar. Have them place an empty plastic cup in the bottom of the jar to catch the “falling rain.” Surround the cup with about an inch of packed snow or ice cubes. Then, cover the top of each jar with plastic wrap and secure with a rubber band. Leave the jars by a sunny window and give students a chance to observe them throughout the day.

Frozen Bubbles

Standard Met: McREL Science Standard 8 (Understands the structure and properties of matter)
What You Need: Bubble wand, bubble solution (you can use store-bought solution, or make your own with soap powder or dish soap, sugar, and hot water—there are many easy recipes online)

What To Do: When the temperature drops below freezing, head outside for some bubble fun. The colder the day, the better, so bundle up! (You won’t want to pick a windy day, however.) Have students predict what will happen when you blow a bubble. Will the bubble take flight and pop in the air as it would on a warm summer day? Or will something else happen? Blow a bubble and catch it on the wand. Watch as crystals form and the bubble freezes. Explain that the bubble is changing from a liquid to a solid—making the connection to water and ice. Invite students to describe the appearance of the changing bubble.

If you don’t live in a place where you’re graced with frigid winter days, simply use a straw to blow a bubble (in the shape of a dome) on a paper plate, then place the plate in a freezer. Check in every 15 minutes or so. The bubble should freeze within an hour. 

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