family building a snowmanBy Jennifer Cummings, M Ed. – 

Weather got you down? Wondering how you will fill up those dark hours when the sun sets so early in the day? Have no fear! The four projects in this month’s column will each give you:

An Outside Mission: If you choose to accept it, this special assignment is designed to get your kids out and about, even in the colder weather,

A Craft Attack: A great craft idea that can be done with simple household items and natural materials that kids can do in the house, and

A Fantastic Follow-Up: A fun activity that you can do after or on another day to extend the learning fun!

So don’t despair! Just choose a project plan and get started! All of these projects are designed for kids, with an adult’s help and oversight. They’re great family activities!

Project #1: Bird Nest Challenge

Outside Mission: Birds make their whole house from only things they find outside, so do you think you could make the perfect nest? The mission for this craft is to go outside gathering as many small, natural objects as you can that you think will help you build the perfect bird nest! You can use anything natural, including twigs, grasses, seeds, cones, of anything else. The only catch? Whatever you choose has to fit in one paper lunch bag and you only have 20 minutes to get as much stuff as you can!

Craft Attack: Using only a small lump of play dough for “mud” and the items you gathered outside, try to make a perfect bird’s nest that you think a bird would like to live in this spring! It’s harder than it looks, so don’t get discouraged. You may have to try a couple different methods!

Fantastic FollowUp: Using a digital camera, go to an area of your yard, a nearby park, or a nature area and try to find bird nests that are still hanging in the trees. Winter is a great time to spot them, since the leaves are all down. Try to get pictures of any that you find. This spring place the nest you made in an open area in a tree or on a fence to see if any birds come and recycle your materials into a new nest!

Project #2: Pine Cone Feeders

Outside Mission: Take a shopping bag outside to a place where there are pine trees. Look underneath (you may have to dig through the snow!) and find as many whole pine cones as you can. Brush off as much dirt and as many pine needles as you can, and bring them into the house.

Craft Attack: Place all of your cones on the table. Take you best 12 cones that are whole and open, and place them on an old cookie sheet. Place in a warm, dry place until the cones are dry all the way through. If you want to make it happen faster, you can use a hair dry to speed up the process. When the cones are dry tie a 12 piece of yarn to the top of each one. Coat each pine cone in peanut butter or vegetable shortening and roll the covered cones in crushed cereal, bird seed, raisins, or nuts. Tie your new bird feeders to one or more trees in your yard and watch the birds come to eat!

Fantastic FollowUp: Try rolling different pine cones in different coatings. Then, hang feeders up where they can be seen from the house. See if you can identify the kinds of birds that come to each different kind of feeder you made. Not sure what you saw? Visit an online help site, such as www.whatbird.com to search birds by your location!

Project #3: Track Attack!

Outside Mission: Winter is a great time for watching animal tracks! Become a track detective to find out what animals have been in your backyard! Take a notebook, a pencil, and a ruler outside and try to find animal tracks in the snow. When you see some, draw what you see. Include the right number of toes in the track, a picture of how the pattern of tracks looks, and try to measure how big the tracks are. Look closely because even though tracks like dogs” and cats” are easy to spot, even mice make tracks, too!

Craft Attack: Tape 6 pieces of computer printer paper together the long way to make a banner. Then, lay two layers of newspaper on the floor long enough to fit completely under the whole banner when it’s laid on the floor. While sitting in a chair right near one end of the banner, have mom or dad paint one of your feet blue and the other one red with finger paint. When they are both painted, use your two-color feet to walk right down the middle of the computer paper banner! (When you get to the end, have another chair ready so you can wash your feet!) Take a look at the pattern you made on the paper when you walked. Have more time? Tape 12 pieces of paper together and see what happens to your foot prints when you jog! Compare your track pattern to the ones you found outside!

Fantastic FollowUp: not sure what kind of animal made the footprints you found outside? Visit www.bear-tracker.com to see examples of lots of different animal tracks, from house cats to bears! Try to match your pictures to the tracks on the website.

Project #4: How Fast Will Snow Go?

Outside Mission: How fast will snow melt? Does it matter if it’s light and fluffy or hard? Do this outside experiment to find out! First, take out two old pans that are about the same size (brownie pans work well). Go outside and fill one pan to the top with snow by putting it in as loosely as possible. Don’t pack it down or make snowballs in this pan! In the other pan, fill with snow by packing it in as much as you can with your hands. Then, take both pans and put them side-by-side in a basement or bathtub. Write down the time you put them inside. Then, check them every 5 minutes to see how much each one has melted. Which one do you think will melt faster? Watch and find out! How long does it take to melt all of the snow?

Craft Attack: Using old magazines, cut small pieces of paper in different shades, especially blue, white, gray, and brown. Then, using the small pieces of paper like pieces of a puzzle that you make yourself, create a mosaic picture of a snowy landscape! Add glitter to the snow and you’ll have a beautiful picture!

Fantastic FollowUp: Did you know all snowflakes are different? Perform an online image search for “snowflake photographs” to see some of nature’s most amazing structures! Do you think you can make an amazing snowflake like the ones in the pictures? Using art supplies try to copy your favorite snowflake design!

With these four terrific projects, the month of February will fly right by and spring will be here before you know it! Have a little fun outside, make some great crafts, and learn something new together as a family! Before you know it, the world will start to turn Positively Green!

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