Art, science, snow and ice

Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses. Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.

Leonardo DaVinci

As the temperatures fell, we notice all the changes around us. We adapted to being outside in very cold weather, and as we did we noticed the birdsong change. We delighted when we discovered a squirrel nest right above our learning site when we heard the squirrel eating a walnut during in our morning silence. We also noticed how leaves made prints in snow and ice.

One of the greatest gifts of this season of subfreezing temperatures has been discovering the many affordances of snow and ice. The piqued interests of the students allowed for effortless lessons on the phases of matter, the properties of water, and the differences between snow, sleet, and freezing rain. We supercooled water and learned about the fascinating work of Wilson Bentley.

We were inspired by Bentley’s story to look closely at snowflakes and notice the differences in the snow as it fell, got packed, melted and refroze. We discussed the many words that we use to describe snow (e.g., flurry, squall, blizzard, snow showers).

Our interest in snow evolved into an interest in ice, and we were inspired to do a couple of ice related art projects. One of them was to make ice mandalas. We arranged fruit slices in tins and hung a string out of the container so we could hang them.

This was a boon for our bird and squirrel friends, and we returned after a warm spell to find our impermanent art gone…strings included!

After designing geometric stained glass art designs on paper with oil pastels, we changed our medium and used ice. This took several tries to have the conditions just right for freezing shallow trays of colored ice, a cold day to arrange mosaics, and a cold overnight to allow them to refreeze.

I wish I had a beautiful photo to share of the ice mosaics hanging in the trees as we planned, but we missed the window of cold temps during the school week and they melted over the weekend. No worries…that gives us a chance to try again!

Many of my friends love Minecraft and they all love building with all kinds of materials: blocks, magnatiles, K’nex, dominoes. So I thought, why not provide the opportunity to build with ice blocks. They decided to build an ice mansion for a famous billionaire.

Again we got to see how their ice sculpture changed as the weather warmed up and then refroze the ice. To me, it became even more beautiful. Then, we made more ice and added to the original design.

The children have also enjoyed building out of found snow and ice. They made a “soda machine” by packing snow together and storing water bottles in it. Then they opened up an ice store…because ice is valuable to their eyes. I overheard them describing the different kinds of ice…snowy ice, clear ice, etc. That reminded me of the many words used in the Inuit culture to name snow and ice. I hope to have time to explore this more before our winter treasures and interest thaw.

We have enjoyed having this abundant natural resource available to use in our learning and play. Snow and ice are valuable and allow for many opportunities to integrate science, art, and play.

Whatever beauty we behold, the more it is distant, serene, and cold, the purer and more durable it is. It is better to warm ourselves with ice than with fire. 

Henry David Thoreau

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