Wednesday, December 2, 2009

'Tis the Season

Now that winter has arrived you might find you and your family spending more time inside playing the Wii or backing cookies. Scholastic has put together a fun and exciting list of winter activities that you and your children can do even when snowflakes are flying. Lets learn from and enjoy this wonderful season.

•Create a sundial. Find a long stick and set it in the snow. Try to tell the time throughout the day by where the stick's shadow is cast. (At high noon there will be no shadow.)

•Start a nature sketchbook. Buy an inexpensive artist's sketch pad or book and begin a winter nature diary. Each time you take a walk, observe something up close in nature. Draw the item, then write down descriptive details and date the entry. Continue you observations and entries throughout the year as seasons and locations change. This is especially fun if you visit the same area year after year — you can compare your observations over time.

•Identify trees during a walk in the winter woods. Observe the shape and bundling of evergreen needles and patterns on bark. Borrow a naturalist's guide from the library to help make your identifications.

•Go on a berry hunt. Pick berries with leaves attached and try to identify them (but don't eat them!). Use a naturalist's guide or check the Web before or after your search to find clues.

•Observe the night sky. Before your trip, research the constellations and planets that may be visible on a cold clear night at the latitude and longitude where you are staying. Practice picking them out in the heavens by first tracing the constellations on paper. Then, when you are away, it will be easier to find them. Your Sky is just one site where you can map your sky.

•Search for animal tracks. The best time is early morning when snow is pristine — you'll find the tracks of nocturnal animals. Draw and label what you see. Visit before you leave for your trip, and download pictures of tracks for black bear, porcupine, beaver, red fox, gray squirrel, moose, skunk, brush rabbit, deer mouse and black-tailed deer. You can also learn about their winter habitats at the site.

•Keep an eye open for skat, too. Droppings are another way to look for signs of animal life.

•Collect pine cones from different types of evergreens. Take them home as mementos of your trip.

•Take bird-watching breaks. Record your findings in your sketchbook. When you get home, do some research (using the Internet or an Audubon guide) to find out what types of food these birds forage for in winter.

•Listen and look for owls just before dark. In the daytime, keep your eyes open for "owl pellets" during your walks. Owls spit up these small, oval-shaped balls that may contain bits of undigested bone and fur.

•Hunt for icicles. See who can find the biggest.

•Explore lichen. To identify and learn more about various kinds, check out

•Search for deer fields on foot, while showshoeing, or when you are in your car. Deers like to collect in meadows that are sheltered by trees.

•Blow bubbles outdoors in the cold. Do they freeze? Visit Bubblesphere for a host of information.

•Play snow "basket"-ball. Scoop out a large bowl-shaped area in the snow and make a ton of snowballs, then see who can land the most into the basket.

•Try snowball catch for variation.

• Team up for snow hockey or golf. Use a broom for hockey, or bring along a toy club for golf.

•Have fun with outdoor tic-tac-toe. Use a long stick to draw the grid and the Xs and Os. Or color snowballs (use a spray bottle filled with watered-down food coloring) and throw them into the grid to play - red against blue, for example, instead of X vs. O.

•Go snow bowling. Line up inverted pails of snow, then try to knock them down with snowballs.

•Build a snowman, of course. Use stones, branches and berries to decorate (and a carrot for his nose!).

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