I can honestly say that, as a transplant from Texas, this is the first winter I have actually loved. Last year was nice, too, but now that I’ve fully embraced the beauty and wonder of our winter wonderland, it’s much easier to enjoy the dark months.
The secret? Get outside — especially on those bluebird days we so often have in deep winter — and enjoy the ice in all its glory.
Below you’ll find a few ways to explore the magic — and science — of ice with the kids in your life.
A (really basic) introduction to ice
Frozen lakes, snowflakes, ice crystals on trees, slippery parking lots, wilted garden plants — ice takes many forms in the winter. It can be beautiful, helpful and even dangerous.
In school, we learn that ice forms when the temperature of water reaches 32 F (0 degrees Celsius). We also know that water is special in that when it freezes solid, it becomes less dense. (We will explore this concept later in an experiment for kids.) This is why lake ice forms over the top of the lake — good news for ice skaters and ice fishing.
When water becomes less dense, it expands. (You can explore this with your kids by sticking a reused, full plastic water bottle outside overnight). When water freezes and expands inside a living thing’s cells, it can explode the cells and damage the living thing. In animals, we call this damage frostbite. Humans wear layers and animals have fur, feathers or find other ways to help protect themselves from frostbite.
However, water doesn’t always freeze at 32 F. Water can reach as low as -55 F before it must freeze solid. This is called supercooling. In temperatures higher than 55 F, a water molecule has to have a solid particle to grab onto in order to freeze. These particles can be bacteria or a bit of dirt in a water bottle, a speck of dust in the atmosphere, a tree branch — really anything. Without a particle, the water just stays liquid. As soon as it bumps into the necessary particle, it freezes solid. This is how snowflakes get started, and how those beautiful crystals form on the surface of the snow in our yards on cold nights or on trees at high elevations.
There are also chemicals that can be added to water to keep them from freezing. Some animals naturally produce these kinds of chemicals so that they’re able to withstand colder temperatures. Other animals, such as certain kinds of frogs, produce chemicals to draw the water in their cells to empty spaces in their bodies — and then they freeze solid.
(Not that kind of) Frozen activities for kids
Go on an ice hunt. Talk about the different ways you might find ice outside. Bundle up and head out, looking for different kinds of ice. How many shapes and consistencies can you find? Take pictures of the most beautiful ice you see. Can you find something that ice has damaged? Can you find any floating ice? Can you find any places where plants or animals are using ice to make their lives easier? Can you see any signs of animals that go about their daily lives, despite the cold?
Do an experiment to explore the densities of water. Mix food coloring into water and freeze it into ice cubes. After it’s frozen, drop a colored ice cube into a clear glass of warm water. What happens to the ice as it melts? Why?
To explore more of our wintery wonderland with an expert guide, come along on a Family Snowshoe Hike, offered by the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust and the City of Wenatchee on Jan. 28 and Feb. 4. Learn more at cdlandtrust.org/whats-new. Other great family-friendly winter outings are available at the Wenatchee River Institute and the Leavenworth Fish Hatchery.