Experimenting with Snow and Color

One day while on the playground, the Purple Room observed that the snow was too icy and hard for the children to really play in and work with in their usual ways. To add to the environment, the teachers brought out liquid watercolors for the children to experiment with on the snow. This has led to a larger exploration of the interaction of watercolors and snow. The children guide the way by predicting what will happen, testing their ideas, analyzing the results, and tweaking their methods for future attempts.

Our first exploration was outside.  We used segmented containers so that the children would have discrete units in which to add and mix colors. To add liquid watercolor, we used pipettes. These limited the amount that could be added at once, allowed for switching colors, and could potentially be used with mittens

After the containers had snow in each section, the children selected pipettes. Each child used their own pipette to draw up one of the primary colors and add it to the snow. In the end, most children removed their mittens to better pinch the bulb at the end.  They create new combinations in different pockets of the container.

“I made green!” one student exclaimed. Other children made similar discoveries as they layer colors.

When the color is used up, the kids decided to dump out the snow. After emptying the container, they realized it was much brighter underneath! “Don’t step on it!” many of them called out. They admired their colors and how different the underside of the snow looked.

Following the children’s enthusiasm and interest in the coloring mixing, a table was set up in the classroom with snow and watercolors. This time there were paint brushes and thick watercolor paper. Some children painted the snow and paper, while others only added paint to the snow.

We asked the children as they added snow to their paper, “What do you think will happen?”

Student: Pink! It’s pink now! Now it’s my turn with the red. It has to melt, right? Because snow melts. “
Student: We put snow on it, then we paint! I don’t know…melt! But I don’t know when. Then it will turn into a grape!
Student: I’m not making snowballs, I’m pretending to make geodes. I’m gonna put them together into one big rainbow.

The results were beautiful and the children were intrigued by the melting process. They noticed how the colors ran as the snow melted, and this lead us into a more scientific exploration of what would happen.  The children made predictions and hypotheses about what would happen, then waited as their experiments slowly melted into observable results.

Student: I know what we’re doing! It will melt and the color will fall down because the snow will melt and then it [the paint] will stick onto the paper.

The following day, we noticed something alarming! On many of the papers, the color was gone. The children reflected on what they thought would happen and what actually occurred.

Student: Aww! I expected it to get bigger on the paper…
Student: It went away…
Student: Some of the paint melted. It went into the paper.
Student: But the paper is dry!
Student: The water went on the clipboard. Maybe it’s under the paper.

The children began to think up solutions and what they would do in their next rendition. Some of the children thought  about how we could change our process to get the paint to “stick.”

Student: We need stickier snow!
Student: Yeah sticky! We could glue the snow!
Student: We can use snow and paint…maybe some glue.
Student: Maybe I would make a sandwich. Paint would be the bread and snow would be the stuff inside.

When we revisited the same provocation, the children tested their new theories. One student took to the paper again, this time applying watercolor to the paper and only a little to the snow. Another followed through on his plan to “make a sandwich” by layering paint/water/paint.

One student tested her theory by adding some glue to the paper before placing her snow.

Again, we set them to the side and waited for the melting to happen. 

To continue the study, we decided to take the project back outside and have them try it on a larger scale–no ice bucket needed!

The students began by testing the materials, putting just watercolors on paper. More children gathered. There weren’t enough brushes for everyone, so labor was divided into painters and snow-adders. Jobs rotated and experimentation begins between paint, snow, paper, and tape.

Over time, some of the paint froze, forming crystals. The snow was heaped and worked into the paper. Students added more and more layers. When the group went inside, they left the painting in the atrium to melt and drip and dry.

This exploration has been a wonderful opportunity for the children of the Purple Room to direct their own learning in a multidimensional way.  What began as a day of frozen ground morphed into a chance to create art, work with natural materials, predict outcomes, and test theories through multiple trials. Children have been able to work at their own pace and see the direct outcome of their choices. They have experienced both disappointment and wonder, and have yet again found the joy in all the snow!

Reflection by the Purple Room Co-Teachers, Zoe Wolfe and Nina Soto

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