It's the perfect time of year to learn about snowflakes! One of the best ways to do this is to collect real snowflakes and use a magnifying glass or microscope to study them up close. Here are some ideas to make the most of those snowy days. If you do not have snow where you live, no problem. Just use the recipe below to make your own borax snowflakes.
When the snow starts falling, grab your coats and boots, a couple of pieces of black construction paper, and a magnifying glass or two if you have them. As the snow is falling around you, catch a couple of snowflakes on your black construction paper and observe them with your magnifying glass, comparing how the snowflakes are similar and different. Count how many sides or points the snowflakes have and if any snowflakes appear to match.
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Make Borax Snowflakes
Make real crystal snowflakes to decorate your home or tree using borax (look for it on the laundry detergent aisle at the store). This activity takes about 30 minutes of active preparation and then overnight to set. (Adult supervision recommended.)
What You Need:
- Wide-mouth jar
- 3 pipe cleaners
- A pencil
- 1-cup measuring cup
- Food coloring (optional)
- Glow-in-the-dark paint (optional)
- Ribbon (optional)
What You Do:
- Tie a piece of string to one end of the star. Connect the string to the next point by twisting it around the pipe cleaner. Continue around until you connect all the points together with the string, making a snowflake skeleton (see the picture).
- Tie another piece of string to one of the pipe cleaner points and tie the other end around the pencil. Place the snowflake in the jar with the pencil resting across the mouth of the jar. Make sure that the snowflake hangs without touching any part of the jar. Take the snowflake out of the jar.
- Use a teakettle or microwave to boil enough water to fill the jar. Have an adult help you add the hot water to the jar. As you do, measure out how many cups of water are needed to fill the jar. For every cup of water placed in the jar, mix in three tablespoons of borax. This will make a saturated borax solution. Stir the borax solution with a spoon until as much of it dissolves as is possible.
- Hang your snowflake in the jar so that it is completely covered in the solution. Let it sit overnight. Gently remove your now crystal-covered snowflake in the morning and let it dry by hanging it in a dry jar.
Optional: To make colored snowflakes, use colored pipe cleaners and add 1-2 drops of food coloring in step four. To make your snowflakes glow in the dark, paint the pipe cleaner snowflake with glow-in-the-dark paint in step two and let it dry completely before going on to step three. Tie a ribbon to one point of your snowflake to make a Christmas tree ornament!
If you happen to have a microscope and microscope slides, try preserving snowflakes. All you really need for this activity are the slides, but using a microscope is a fun bonus. Prepare in advance by placing a couple of slides in the freezer so that they won't melt the snowflakes. You will also need hairspray or artists' fixative. Keep these items in a cold area like your refrigerator or an unheated garage. When it is time to collect and preserve snowflakes, bring out the slides, the hairspray, and a couple of toothpicks. Spray one side of the slides with the hairspray. Catch the snowflakes on the sticky side of the microscope slides, using a toothpick to gently move the snowflake to center it, if needed. Place the slide with the snowflake in a cold area where no more snowflakes will fall on it, such as inside a covered box or in the unheated garage. Leave the slide untouched for several hours so that the hairspray can dry and the water in the snowflake will disappear. You now have the imprint of a snowflake on a slide you can study with the naked eye or a microscope.
Another winter science activity:
Hot Chocolate Solvent. Find out some basic chemistry while enjoying tasty chocolate.