Examine a snowflake
Most winters we have a little snowfall, but round our way it hardly ever really settles, so here is an idea to get the most out of your snowflakes as they fall. You will need some plain black or dark- coloured fabric or card and a good magnifying glass. When snow is forecast, cut the fabric up into small squares and keep them ready in the freezer. When it snows, catch a snowflake on the frozen fabric square and examine it under the magnifying glass (or a microscope if you have one). Obviously you will want to do this with several snowflakes to appreciate how they are all different. Can you draw the snowflakes? Chalks or pastels on black paper look effective.
We always make a batch of this dough at Christmas time for making tree decorations and snow people. As the recipe is mainly salt, it is an economical one to make for larger groups of children, and it dries with an appealing white and glisteny finish, like snow.
You will need:
- 2 cups salt
- 1 cup cornflour
- 1 cup water
- Extra cornflour in a dredger
Cloves, acorn cups, etc. to decorate
Measure the salt, cornflour and cold water into a pan; there is no need to worry about being too exact. Start stirring and heating the mixture; after a few minutes a dough will gradually form. As the mixture thickens it will feel heavy to stir, but turn the heat down and keep stirring for as long as you are able, until the dough is in a stiff lump rather like mashed potato without the milk or butter. A thick crust will have coated the inside of the pan, but don’t worry: it will soak off easily in cold water.
Dredge your surface with cornflour and tip the dough out. It will be very hot at this stage so allow it to cool for a little while, though it feels lovely to handle while still warm, with hands dredged in the silky cornflour. Younger children will be happy just to knead the dough at this stage without trying to create a model.
Cloves can be poked into the dough to make eyes, buttons and twiggy mouths for snow people, and to make them smell Christmassy. Acorn cups make sweet little hats.
Alternatively you can roll the dough out like pastry and stamp out shapes with cutters: stars and angels look nice. You may like to experiment with decorations like sequins and glitter, and remember to make a small hole in the shapes with a pencil for hanging on a tree.
Shapes and models will harden naturally at room temperature, but I tend to speed this process up by popping them in a still-warm oven after dinner for a few nights. Left-over dough will keep in a sealed tub, and finished models will keep from one year to the next!
The children love these pretty lanterns, but there are a few hazards involved in making them, so it’s best to just let them enjoy the end product and watch the process.
You will need:
- Balloons, the conventional shape and not inflated
- Food colouring Tea lights
Traditionally we make these for our driveway on Christmas Eve to guide Santa’s sleigh down, but we tend to have more success with them when the weather gets really frosty: the colder the better! It is a lovely way to enjoy a proper (and sadly these days rare) cold snap in the depths of winter. The other good reason for making them after Christmas is that we are more likely to have some space in the freezer.
Start by dropping about a teaspoonful of food colouring into a balloon. Then pull the neck of the balloon all the way onto the cold tap and hold it on securely while you slowly turn the tap on to fill it with water. Very carefully pinch the balloon off the tap and knot it tightly. Be firm with it or the water will spray out everywhere! Give the balloon a gentle shake to help disperse the colouring, and place it in a pudding bowl in the freezer for no longer than eight hours. What you are aiming for is for the outer inch or two to be frozen solid, with water still in the middle, so you may wish to check it once or twice.
Pop your washing-up gloves on and retrieve the ice lantern from the freezer. Peel away and discard the bits of balloon. Improvising with kitchen utensils, use a gentle hammer-and- chisel action to break through the top of the ice lantern and pour out the water/slush from the middle. Don’t panic if the whole thing cracks apart at this stage: it is possible to freeze it back together again. You can also use hot water to hollow out the lantern more if need be, and to create an opening wide enough for the tea light.
Place your finished ice lanterns on a tray, carefully drop in the lighted tea lights and arrange them outside where they shouldn’t blow out, melt, pose a fire risk, or get stolen!
This is a simple activity that doesn’t create a mess. Hurray! You need thick absorbent paper, though wallpaper lining paper or thin card will do. Use washable felt-tip pens (the ones with thick nibs for young children) and colour all over the paper. Create blocks of colour and avoid colours that will muddy the picture, such as black, brown or grey. Then take the picture outside and watch the falling snow make all the colours bleed and blend together. Remember to fetch your picture in before all the colours are washed away.
Mary Barnard lives in Nottingham with her husband and three children Jenna, Solomon and Tahlia. She was a special needs teacher before the children came along. (Accurate at the time this issue went to print)
First published in Issue 13 (Winter 2007) of JUNO: