Friday, January 21, 2011

Snow Fun

Today, I'll share the events that happened with my kids this morning as a way of illustrating how you might support your own children and students in their investigations.

My kids had  a snow day today (for my overseas readers, this means no school due to snowfall). When they came down for breakfast, they opened the front door to see exactly how much snow we had. My daughter is fascinated by the fact that snow "sizzles" when she drops little bits of it on top of our woodstove. She and her brother grabbed small handfuls of snow and ran to the woodstove in the livingroom. After a few minutes, both kids returned to inform me that they had put some snow under hot water in the bathroom sink and it "disappeared" (5 year old daughter's term).

I replied, "Wow" and left them to their own devices. That is, until my daughter attempted to bring a huge snowball from the front door, through the dining room and livingroom, to the bathroom. The result: a HUGE pile of snow on the rug. Before she totally panicked, I handed her the dustpan and broom and told her to sweep it up as quickly as possible and put it back outside.

She did. But she looked crestfallen. She assumed her explorations were over.

Instead, I said to both kids, "How could you get the snow from here to there without dropping snow all over the floor?"
My 8 year old son said, "Get a container?" (As if asking permission).
I said, "Go get one!"
And off they went to grab a giant metal bowl.

I had assumed my daughter, who is 5, would love this exploration but that my son, who is 8, would find it boring. He was laughing and having as much fun as her.

Here's what they did with the snow they brought in over multiple trips:
  1. Put it under running warm water.
  2. Put it in a full sink of hot water,
  3. Put it in a sink of cold water.
  4. Dropped some in the toilet.
  5. And finally... dropped huge snowballs into a tub of warm water.
My daughter then asked, "Can I get into the tub?"
My response? "Go ahead!"

So she did.

What were the benefits if this investigation?
  1. They worked together without fighting.
  2. They solved problems.
  3. They developed critical and creative thinking skills.
  4. They learned some science. (Hot water melts snow faster than cold water. Cold water melts snow faster than no water. My daughter shifted her language from "disappeared" to "melted." She learned it from her brother).
  5. Most importantly... they had fun!
What was my role in all of this?
Stay out of the way and let them explore. Redirect only when needed (as in to keep snow off the oriental rugs).

Sometimes adults are quick to tell kids they can't do something. I know I am often guilty of this, especially if I am tired. But, try to stop and think, "WHY not?" Is there any danger? Can anyone get hurt? Can belongings be damaged? If so, could the work be altered slightly (as I did by guiding them to the idea of a container) to prevent problems?

The only real safety concern I faced was the issue of my daughter getting into the tub alone. Solution? I simply stood nearby. The rest of the time I stayed out of it. Oh, and I did take some photos!

A few suggestions for teachers: Preschool teachers could bring big buckets of snow into the classroom for use in the water table. K- 2 teachers might have students take measurements such as how long it takes one cup of snow to melt in 90 degree water vs. 50 degree water. Older students could be asked how they might structure an investigation of their own that involves snow.

For more suggestions on promoting inquiry see this previous post.

When have you let your children or students play in a way that you might not have considered or initially wanted? What were the results? Please share your experiences so that we can learn from each other.

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