Fun With Ice and Snow
by Katie Beltramo
Sure, they can be a hassle when it comes to shoveling and driving, but snow and ice offer endless possibilities for creativity, learning, and fun. So you've sent the kids outside to play and you've gone sledding. . . what else can you do? Plenty!
Make Tasty Ice and Snow Treats
Solid water's very simplicity offers up plenty of flexibility when it comes to creating tasty treats. Some of these sound too simple to be fun, but kids love to eat snow, and at our house, any parent-sanctioned consumption seems strangely exotic and wonderful.
Snow Cones and Flavored Snow Balls: Use real snow to make snow cones. You can purchase official-looking paper cones and straws at many stores or online, or just add juice to a pile bowl full of snow. My daughters brought a squirt bottle filled with juice outside with them to "snow-conify" their snowballs. And took off their mittens. And ate them out of their chapped, raw hands in the 2-degree weather until I looked out the window and called a halt to the process. Or, I should say, took a couple of photos and then insisted that the hands get warmed, dried, and mittened.
Snow Ice Cream: Snow ice cream is such a family tradition at our house that it marks the official beginning of "real" winter in our family (you need more than just a dusting to make it), and the kids have said in mid-July, "I can't wait to make snow ice cream again!" Get a bowl full of clean snow. Add milk (or sweetened condensed milk, cream, or half-n-half) until it’s wet enough to stick together, sugar until it’s sweet enough, and a bit of vanilla. I always have the economy-sized imitation vanilla for wintertime. We don’t do exact measurements for this very forgiving recipe. The kids love to dump, stir, taste, and repeat.
Maple Syrup Candy: When the snow is deep and fresh, we like to boil maple syrup and then pour it over freshly collected snow placed in a bowl or pan. Depending on how long you boil the syrup, it turns into maple-flavored ice, chewy maple taffy, or hard maple candy. This is particularly terrific for Little House on the Prairie fans, and if it's a hit with your kids, plan an outing to a maple sugaring farm in late winter/early spring.
Juice Icicles: My kids are crazy about icicles, so this year we tried an experiment. I half-filled a sealable baggy with juice and cut a big hole along the top to hang it from a tree limb, then cut a very small hole along the bottom to let the juice drip and form an icicle. This worked better the second time, when I started with juice that I chilled in the freezer, but it is a bit of a sticky mess, don't set it to overhang your porch. Our icicles were not beautiful, but my children considered the experiment a resounding success.
Variations on Winter Sports
I highly recommend that you Embrace the Winter by trying winter sports with your kids, but if you're just hanging around the neighborhood, here are some fun ways to get active and stay warm on a snowy day.
Homemade Snow Shoes: You can make your own (temporary) snow shoes by cutting sturdy cardboard shapes that are roughly two or three times as large as your kids' feet, then poking two holes in each piece of cardboard and threading twine or rope through the holes and over the kids' boots. It's a new challenge for kids which will entertain them until the sogginess detroys your cardboard, making this an activity best for the super-cold days.
Speedy sledding: Is your old plastic sled slowing you down? Scavenge for the end of an old candle and let your kids wax the bottom. This is surprisingly effective. As in, proceed with caution, because your speed may increase dangerously, depending on the diligence of your waxers.
Slow sledding: Have little ones? Pile them into a sled and drag them for a winter walk (easier if you wax the sled first!) around the neighborhood. This is a great activity for toddlers who often struggle with walking in the snow when just plain walking still requires concentration. You'll also discover all sorts of neighborhood features. On our corner, a neighbor never clears the sidewalk after the plows come through, but my children cheer and call it the mini-mountain.
Ice skating: Feeling ambitious? You can make your own backyard ice skating rink, and if you have little ones just learning to ice skate, you can make a skating support out of PVC piping that will help keep them upright. Click the link for more detailed instructions.
Get Crafty with Ice and Snow as Your Media
Like with cooking, snow and ice add a bit of glamour to otherwise simple crafts. Some of these require an important skill: patience. All of them will make creative types welcome a dip in the temperature to support their craft!
Snow candles: Melt some candle wax. With your hand or a spoon make a shallow hole in the snow (either outside or in a bowl that you've brought inside) that's the approximate shape you'd like the candle to be. Line the inside of your hole with aluminum foil, then drop in wick tied to a stick into the whole, laying the stick across the top of your hole. Pour melted wax into the hole until it's almost filled, then let it set until firm. When the wax is solid, remove it from the snow & foil! This method makes some beautiful, unexpected shapes and crinkles on the outside of the wax from the crinkled foil.
Icy Snow Catchers: These are fun and easy even for a toddler, but lovely and creative enough to delight teens and grown-ups. were completely engrossed in their sun catcher designs. You just put some stuff in a container (flexible take-out containers or silicone cookie molds work). Then add some stuff: you can use items found in nature, sequins, crayon shavings, bird seed, beads or other crafty materials. Add some water. Of course, adding water means that you can’t place things with absolute precision, because they’ll float around a bit, so don't spend too much time arranging first In order to hang it, make a loop of string or ribbon and make sure that most of it is submerged. Then set it outside to freeze.
Snow painting. Start with either empty or clean, used containers. Squirt top containers for dishwashing soap or spray bottles work well. Fill them with water tinted with food coloring. Kids love to squirt paintings on the snow's surface or use color to embellish snow sculptures.
Ice mosaics: Pour water into several rimmed baking sheets or pans. Add a few drops of food coloring to each one until you have a palate that inspires you and your kids, then leave the water to freeze. To prevent messes, I've found that it's easier to place the pans where you'd like them outside, then pour water from a plastic pitcher and mix the food coloring without picking up or moving the pans. Once your ice is frozen, break it into pieces (shallow water will yield thin ice that breaks easily, or go deeper for sturdier ice), then place the pieces together to create designs or pictures. We like to use a plate with a layer of snow as "mortar" to hold it together. You can do this quickly inside or take your time outside, then take a photo to save your results.
Re-purpose Warm-Weather Fun Favorites
These fun ideas seem counter-intuitive because we think of them as summertime activities, but that's part of what makes them seem strange and special to children.
Bubbles: Try blowing bubbles outside and see how they freeze! The results are really gorgeous. Depending on the weather conditions outside (like temperature and sunniness), bubbles can look like glass or form jellyfish shapes, so enterprising kids can treat this as a continuing science experiment all winter.
Sand toys: Sand toys are excellent for making snow sculptures, as are cookie molds. You can also fill water balloons and set them outside to freeze, then remove the balloon (this is another activity that's more fun with food coloring).
Picnic: Just because the weather outside is cold doesn't mean that you shouldn't have a picnic! This is the best activity for days that are so beautiful that your kids don't want to come inside, anyway: by preparing a picnic, you avoid having to get everyone un-dressed and re-dressed so that they can refuel. Soups in a thermos, grilled cheese sandwiches, or heat-and-eat finger foods like hot dogs or chicken strips are easy choices. Or set out a bowl of grapes early, and by dessert time kids will have bite-sized fruit slushies!
Campfire: My children will never say no to s'mores around the campfire. This is a terrific post-sledding activity for a crowd.
Play ball: My kids love to fashion chutes through the snow, then see how far they can get a ball to follow the pathway that they've planned. This is a great cooperative engineering project. Encourage kids by offering to make a movie of their ball's journey, or kids can compete to see whose ball travels farthest.
More Creative Snow and Ice Play
There are so many fun ideas for snowy, icy fun, and you never know what's going to inspire your kids, so we couldn't forget these ideas which are simple but have offered up some of our children's best and most creative snowy-day times.
Indoor Snowscape: Fill a sled or your bathtub with snow from inside, line the area with towels, then provide kids with spoons, storage containers, and plastic figurines for some creative, sandbox-style play. This is a great activity for little ones who need constant supervision or the days when it just feels too cold to stay outside. Our reader Lisa, who first suggested this one, says that they keep the necessary "equipment" right outside our back door for easy access because her kids never tire of this one.
Stomp a path: Kids can stomp a pathway for parents to follow, or teach kids about labrynths and encourage them to create their own. Or make a maze with several possible endpoints, with different activities or "prizes" at the end of each path.
Snow "furniture": Everyone loves to make snow forts, but my children are particular fans of sculpting out snow furniture like chairs, beds, and (their personal favorite) chaise lounges. This is easy and imaginative play.
Snow creatures: Why stop with the snow man and his family? Snow creatures can be wildly ambitious or much, much quicker and easier (think bunnies and mice if your children have a short attention span). Or suggest your children make a snow petting zoo.
Icicle building: Our family loves icicles, and we love to incorporate icicles into snow fort building (they make impressive and menacing defensive barriers) or just harvest a large pile of the icicles and treat them like very cold and delicate Lincoln Logs.
Tree shaking: Another wonderful little-kid activity that will enhance your children's walk is to seek out trees with plenty of snow on their limbs, then shake them gently for a mini snowfall. Low hanging firs work particularly well, but any tree will add delight to your winter walk. Warning: before you introduce your kids to this activity, you'll want to make sure that they've got hats and have firmly sealed off the backs of their necks!
Enjoying all that snow and ice have to offer is a sure-fire cure for cabin fever, and it will help you and your children appreciate every single day more. Try something from our list today, or get inspired, come up with something new, and share it with us (please)!
Happy snow day!
© 2014, Katie Beltramo Katie Beltramo, a mother of two, is Editor of Kids Out and About-Albany and blogs at Capital District Fun.