Rekindle: Snowballs and Science

To take a snow day or to sludge through a day of homeschooling when all the neighbor kids are outside playing? That’s the question being tossed around on a facebook group I belong to.

I completely understand the need to not give in to every whim of not wanting to do work, but I also believe that work shouldn’t always be so dreary when there’s a beautiful world outside to explore. So, when snow comes our way, which in Maryland, it’s actually a treat, my vote is to take the learning outside and disguise it with snowballs.

Aiming for tree trunks is better than aiming at people – especially for little ones who are still developing eye-hand coordination.

Better yet, collect some fallen branches or get an old hula-hoop or jump rope from the garage and create targets on the ground.

  • How far do you have to stand back so your snowball makes it to the center?
  • What happens if you throw the snowball up high first?
  • Is there a better angle for throwing snowballs when you’re closer to the target?
  • What about when you’re standing farther away?
  • How much more force do you need to use to make your snowball travel a longer distance?

Not too cold, yet? Playset safe enough to climb up? Take your snowball physics one flight up.
Do your snowballs travel farther when you launch them 6-10 feet off the ground using the same amount of force?

Really, what you’re exploring with your kids is the physics concept called projectile motion. There’s more math involved in determining projectile motion than most elementary age kids will understand, but there’s a lot of intuitive learning they’ll get from this hands-on “experiment”.

Use this free projectile simulation to confirm some of your snowball findings. This one uses a cannon and an army man, though.

Or, try this projectile simulation. I don’t like it as much as the first one, but the page has a load of links for lessons you can do for more formal learning.

If you don’t mind the corny Santa theme, try out this free online snowball game. It’s a bit like Angry Birds, with a little Rube Goldberg machine thing going.


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