A child’s first instinct when he sees snow is to pick up a handful, pat it together and chuck it at the nearest person. Simple snowballing can actually be developed into a surprisingly complex array of competitive games. One thing you can do, with sufficient snow, is to mark out a target using food colouring and let children compete to see who can hit the bullseye: it’s an ad-hoc winter cross between archery and boules. But if there is an expanse of snowy white that no one has yet walked upon, you really don’t want to be the one pouring cochineal all over it, at least not until everyone has made a snow angel…
Snow angels are a form of frozen art that children of any age can easily master – although manoeuvring in and out of position can be a challenge. The first step is to find a patch of undisturbed snow, then lie down carefully on your back, disrupting the surface as little as possible. The next part is easy: just imagine you are doing star jumps, only lying down. So flap your arms up over your head, then back down by your sides across the surface of the snow, while pushing your legs in and out again. Do this until you are hot and out of breath. Then try the difficult part: standing up. Since you are both artist and tool, you have to move away from your creation without wrecking it. Then you can decorate this alien artwork. Younger children might enjoy sprinkling birdseed over their angel, which will both “paint” the figure and give the birds something to eat.
Another activity is to build a snowman and decorate him with foods that birds and animals, such as squirrels, can also appreciate. Nature-loving children will relish the chance to help wild creatures and watch them visit their snowman. Preferred foods include apples, pears, berries, unsalted nuts and seeds. Try smearing pine cones with peanut butter and using them as the snowman’s coat buttons, or putting pieces of cooked fat or suet in a net bag and hanging it from the snowman’s arm, as if he’s holding it.
Normally in Britain our snow tends to fall lightly and disappear quickly. But what if it really comes down, stays cold and settles? The possibilities then are almost endless, since snow is a fantastic building material. You can make an igloo by fashioning bricks out of snow and leaving them to freeze overnight, then building as you would with ordinary bricks. You could make a table out of snow and sit around it for lunch, or try sculpting dinosaurs, cars, boats - as long as it’s cold enough, you can create your own building blocks by leaving water to freeze in old yoghurt pots and ice cream cartons.
Try making ice lanterns (providing it is cold enough), which are spellbinding to look at. Place a couple of inches of water in a bowl and leave it outside to freeze, then place a small yoghurt pot in the centre of the bowl, right on the ice, with stones inside to weigh it down. Fill the bowl with water, then, when this has frozen, remove the stones and run a little warm water into the yoghurt pot to release it from the ice lantern, then over the outside of the bowl to free the ice from it. Place a tea light in the hollow (where the yoghurt pot sat) and this lantern will light up the darkest winter garden.
Snow has truly magical properties as well. Children who are used to rain find it astonishing that this fluffy stuff can fall in slow motion from the sky, and the younger ones naturally want to eat it, which is fair enough, so long as it is freshly fallen. If there is enough of it, and you are sure the snow is clean and fresh, you can make snow ice cream by flavouring it with fruit juice and honey.
School-age children may also enjoy studying the flakes, which is surprisingly easy to do: all you need is a magnifying glass and some black cardboard. If you allow a few flakes to land on the card, you can examine them with the magnifying glass (and a torch if it is dark), looking at the different shapes and patterns. You may have to field some awkward questions about the geometry of snowflakes, but the basic facts are that every snowflake has six identical arms, is symmetrical, and every single one is almost certainly unique.
Once the snow has melted, you can have fun designing your own snowflakes. Cut a circle of paper and fold it until you have a shape like a narrow wedge of pizza and then cut different shapes out of the sides. When you unfold the circle you’ll reveal a symmetrical snowflake (probably a fairly basic model for youngsters and a more elaborate affair for older children) to be hung in the bedroom window as a reminder of magical times long after the big thaw.
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