Winter is Coming

winter is comingIt’s a diorama, a keepsake box, a mini exhibit, AND a lesson in ecology! Open the lid of this winter landscape and you’ll find the creatures that hibernate, burrow underground, and tunnel underneath the snow, complete with an information card!

open woodland boxWe read Over and Under the Snow, written by Kate Messner, and illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal (Chronicle Books, 2011). A father and child ski over the deep snow in the woods. Even though it’s a world of white, signs of life are everywhere – squirrel, owl, deer, snowshoe hare, and fox. But under the snow is yet another world. Shrews and voles run in tunnels. Bullfrogs burrow in the mud, bears hibernate, and a queen bee sleeps, waiting for the first signs of spring. The book ends with the child in a cozy bed, dreaming of nature. An absolutely beautiful book, with gorgeous, bold illustrations set against snowy white.

You’ll need:

  • 1 box with a lid
  • Brown construction paper
  • 1 woodland template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • An oval of blue construction paper (approximately 2.5″ x 4.5″)
  • An oval of silver mirror board (approximately 2.5″ x 4.5″)
  • A rectangle of brown wrapping paper (approximately 7.5″ x 10.5″)
  • A smaller rectangle of brown wrapping paper (approximately 3.75″ x 4.5″)
  • White cotton balls
  • 4 small clear plastic small gemstones (optional)
  • Scissors, tape, and glue for construction
  • Metallic markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

First, find a box with a lid. I used white cardboard pencil boxes with hinged lids from Discount School Supply (a dozen cost $17 so a bit of a splurge). To give the outside of the box a little pop of color, we put a strip of patterned tape around the perimeter, but this is optional (or, just use markers to decorate!).

Line the inside of the box (including the underside of the lid) with brown construction paper. Glue an oval of blue construction paper on the right side of the box lid. Cut and color the bear, bee, vole, shrew, and bullfrog from the template, and glue them inside the box. Use markers to draw burrows, dirt specks, and tree roots (we used metallic markers, and they looked great on the brown paper!). Glue the information card to the inside of the box as well.

open woodland boxClose the lid of the box, and glue an oval of silver mirror board to the right of the box, directly above the blue construction paper oval. If you don’t have mirror board, use tin foil.

Now for the tree! Use a brown marker to draw vertical lines on a tall, 7.5″ x 10.5″ rectangle of brown wrapping paper. Then squish, crinkle, and wrinkle the paper. The more wrinkly it gets, the better!

woodland tree step 1Roll the paper into a tube and secure it with tape. Cut 4 tabs in the bottom of the tube (each tab should be about 1.5″ long). Fold the tabs outwards. Later, you’ll use these tabs to attach the tree to the box lid:

woodland tree step 2Cut 5-6 tabs in the opposite end of the tube (these tabs are much longer, about 5″). Fold them out gently, then twist them to create the branches of your tree.

final steps woodland treeHot glue (or tape) the tree to the lid of the box. If you’d like to add a log to your landscape, use a brown marker to draw horizontal lines on a 3.75″ x 4.5″ rectangle of brown wrapping paper. Crinkle the paper, then roll the paper into a tube and secure it with tape. The final length of the log should be 3.75″. Set the finished log aside for a moment.

Glue white cotton ball “snow” to the lid of the box. Then cut and color the squirrel, owl, deer, snowshoe hare, fox, and tree leaves from the template. Glue these items, plus the log, to your winter landscape.

winter is comingFor some extra sparkle, I hot glued 4 small clear plastic gemstones to the edge of the lake. But this, of course, is optional.

frozen lakeYour winter landscape is complete! Well, maybe not quite complete…

jon snowBet you a 33 pound chocolate dragon egg he’s coming back in season six.

The Slopes are Open

slopes are openWho doesn’t enjoy a good sled run? Especially when you get to ride in a comfy customized sled with a charming canine companion!

companionsAnd behold a white plastic folding table transformed into a delightful sled run, complete with wintry obstacles!

sled run with obstaclesWe read Snow on Snow on Snow by Cheryl Chapman, illustrations by Synthia Saint James (Dial Books for Young Reader, 1994). One snowy, wintery day, a boy and his dog go sledding. But when Clancy the dog gets lost, everyone joins in the the search. Luckily, Clancy is found, and all is well. The story is simple, but the repetitive sentences read like poetry and make it a fantastic read-aloud for kids.

You’ll need:

  • 1 box (mine was 2” x 4” x 4”)
  • 2 jumbo craft sticks (mine was 7.75″)
  • 2 pipe cleaners
  • 2 small jingle bells
  • 2 toilet paper tubes
  • A selection of multicultural construction paper
  • A selection of construction paper for hair, dog’s body, ears, and snow pants
  • A selection of patterned paper (optional)
  • 2 pieces of twisteez wire (pipe cleaners work too)
  • 3 mini pom-poms (mine were 1/2″ in diameter)
  • A 1″ x 12″ piece of felt
  • 1 sled run (more on that later!)
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

Begin by cutting any lids or tabs off the top of your box. You want the top to be nice and open.

box steps 1 and 2Then cut curvy “sled” lines in the top of the box. Make sure the back of the sled is taller that the front. Otherwise, your riders will tumble out!

box step 3Use markers to decorate the outside of the sled, and then hot glue two jumbo craft sticks to the bottom of the box as runners.

sled runnersNext, thread two jingle bells onto a pipe cleaner, and bend and curl the ends like so:

bells Tape the center of the jingle bell pipe cleaner to the front of the sled, and then fold the rest around the edge of the sled and secure with tape.

jingle bell attachmentCut the second pipe cleaner in half, curl both pieces, and tape to the inside back of the sled.

finished sledNow for your riders! To make the human rider, wrap a 2″ x 6″ pieces of multicultural construction paper around the top of a toilet paper tube to create the face. Then wrap a 2.25″ x 6″ piece of construction paper around the bottom of the tube for pants.

Wrap a 2.5″ x 5.5″ piece of patterned paper around the middle of the tube for the jacket. Draw facial features with markers, and then fringe and tape some construction paper on top of the tube for hair. Finish by knotting a 1″ x 12″ piece of felt around the neck as a scarf (I fringed the ends of the scarf too).

If you’d like earmuffs, cut and tape a piece of twisteez wire (or pipe cleaner) on either side of the tube, then hot glue two mini pom-poms on top of the wire.

earmuff stepsTo make the dog, wrap a 5.5″ x 6″ piece of construction paper around a toilet paper tube. Cut and tape ears to the top of the tube. Draw facial features with markers. Attach a pom-pom nose with hot glue. Then twist a piece of twisteez wire (or pipe cleaner) around the neck for the collar. Tape securely.

wire collarYour amazing duo is done! To prepare them for their exciting ride, tilt them back in the sled like so:

tiltTime to hit the slopes! I had two plastic folding tables on hand, so I created two sled runs for kids to master.

sled run 2For the sledding obstacle course, you’ll need:

  • One 6′ plastic folding table. A table with a white plastic top is best
  • Clear packing tape
  • A piece of 10.75″ x 13.5″ white poster board for snow tunnel
  • Several handfuls of polyester fill
  • Several 11″ x 14″ pieces of green poster board for trees
  • Several wood rounds
  • 1 balloon stick or wooden dowel
  • Scissors
  • Hot glue

The snow tunnel is the largest obstacle, so attach it first. Use packing tape to secure both ends (scotch tape isn’t strong enough) then hot glue the polyester fill to the outside of the poster board. Run the sled & riders through the tunnel to make sure the height and width works.

To make trees, curl the green poster board into a cone, secure the cone with packing tape, and then trim the bottom of the cone to make it relatively flat. Attach to the table with packing tape.

treeTo make tree stumps, attach packing tape loops to the back of the wood rounds, then press firmly to the table top.

wood round tape loopsFor snow drifts, grab a hunk of polyester fill, elongate it slightly, and then slap a big piece of packing tape over both ends to attach it to the table. Tape loops just don’t work!

packing tape driftsProp the table up on a chair, bench, or box. We have some short cushioned benches that, in addition to the textured carpet on the floor, kept the table really secure. You’ll have to experiment with this a bit in your story time space.

To assist with steering down the hill, I gave the kids a balloon stick (a wooden dowel would work as well).

steering stickSome kids kept the stick in the back of the sled and walked their sleds down the hill. Others positioned their sleds at the top of the hill, lifted the stick out, and let it fly. One determined lad used the stick to push his sled uphill!

uphillI learned a few lessons about kids and plastic table top sledding hills during this story time. If I was to do this program again, I would:

  1. Not include as many obstacles, or have one table completely free of obstacles for sleds to whiz down.
  2. Have the tunnel be the “starting gate” at the top of the hill instead of making the kids maneuver over to it.
  3. Test different materials for steering the sleds (like wooden dowels, craft sticks, unsharpened pencils, a twig from the backyard) to see which one gives kids the best control.
  4. If you have very young children at story time, lay the sled hill flat on the ground so they can simply push the sled through the obstacle course like this:

flat hill