Snow Days: A Home and School Challenge

Shelby and Autumn Navarre enjoying the natural world on a surprise day off school
Shelby and Autumn Navarre enjoying the natural world on a surprise day off school

‘March comes in like a lion,’ fits the Ohio weather forecast perfectly this week. Chatter in the teachers’ lounge continues to include predictions on the possibility of yet another snow day with online hourly checks of the weather. Will tomorrow’s ice storm bring us a 2-hour delay or a closing? We teachers start to plan an A, B, and C in our lesson planning minds, just in case we have to rearrange our already tight schedules. Contrary to the recent SNL “Teacher Snow Day” sketch, there are still headaches that come with these days. Calamity days and teachers are entangled in a love-hate relationship. Who wouldn’t love a chance to sleep in a bit? Yet, then how do we rearrange our lesson planning in order to maintain a smooth and effective day of learning for the students? This issue is a chance for me to brainstorm ways to engage kids in the natural world on snow days.

I wrote an article posted below on snow days, curriculum pacing and nature activities for EECO’s (Environmental Education Council of Ohio) quarterly newsletter.
By the way, EECO is a great organization to join to access resources, activities, and conferences in environmental education. Check out their website and consider joining today! https://eeco.wildapricot.org/

Winter Snow Days – By Laura Schetter

Last school year I was just as excited as the kids for the first few snow days. I can admit to joining in the fun of wearing my pj’s inside out and any other snow dance traditions to bring the snow. Yet, when the grand total hit 14, more snow days than I’d had cumulatively over my ten years of teaching, challenges lessened my enthusiasm for snow days.

Challenges included curriculum pacing, reestablishing routines, rewriting lesson plans, and skill retention. The very first week of 2015 has already brought 2 snow days, so teachers are preparing how to dodge the challenges of last year’s extensive snow day total.

Since the teacher is held responsible for fitting everything in and hitting all standards, my fellow teachers and I found ways to teach those standards despite the snow day total. There are two ways to time delivering make up work: in advance or afterwards.

If the forecast showed likely snow days, I prepared an activity that students could do at home. Alternately, for unexpected snow days, I created more fun homework assignments to make up skills. After several snow days (or in preparation of upcoming snow days), sending home a “blizzard bag” is an interesting way to catch kids up on missed skills.

Ideas for this small tote bag include: make-up assignments, extra practice, small books to practice fluency, journals to write about snow day activities, nature journals to record snow day weather and wildlife observations.

4th grade teacher Ms. Bri Schmitz has a class website to optimize communication with families. Parents and students know to check this on snow days. At home practice for snow days is listed on this website including writing prompts, math fact game websites, and Khan Academy check-ins.

Kindergarten teacher Mrs. Adrienne Navarre is prepared to keep her young minds actively learning on snow days. She sends home ideas for fun family activities including recipes to make snow ice cream and how to grow snowflakes. Before high chances of snow days she makes fun home learning games like hide and seek sight words. The directions tell parents to hide 10 sight words flash cards around the house. When kids find the word they glue them onto a snowball and bring to the teacher the next school day.

Quick web searches can enhance your nature unit with at home family activities. For instance, February 13-16 is the Great Backyard Urban Bird Count, a simple bird watching citizen science family activity.

Don’t let snow days stress your curriculum pacing – be prepared with ways to engage your students in learning at home.

Note: even though the Great Backyard Bird Count mentioned above is over, students could still be assigned the task of creating an online account to observe and record bird species at http://ebird.org/content/ebird/

Special thanks to editor, Nicole Dunwald and brainstormer, Jason Duffield!

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