Santa & Snowflakes Lesson Plan

Oh, the wonder of Nature at this time of the year.

Lesson Plan.
This workshop is also about toning down the excitement of the commercial aspects of Christmas and bringing things back to basics, the Holly, the Ivy, the Evergreen trees, the fallen leaves on the ground which provides food & shelter for all the insects and bugs which have gone into overwintering mode, and the hedgehog & bats that need to go through true hibernation. It is a reiteration that this is natures quite time, time to regenerate, rest and ready for Spring again.

I am happy to say all the children I visited knew the date, Month, Year, and that we were in the Season of Winter. The start of Spring appears to be a puzzle for most and a confusion for most. Some said we were in the Season of Christmas – I don’t think they are too far from the truth on that one!

If you look at Met Eireann’s website they clearly say Spring starts on March 1 st.
From a very reliable source: Traditionally in Ireland, winter started on Nov. 1st and ended on Jan. 31st. Samhain marked the end of the old year and February (Brigid’s Day) the beginning of spring. Yes, it is confusing if Autumn starts at the beginning of August but that is our belief.

The first big Science Question?
Do they think Nature knows it’s the 1 st February – this caused a lot of debate and discussion, I know I asked a tricky question but I would also reiterate that a tree doesn’t know how to read, count, or read the calendar so these are, either way, a human constraint of nature. Nature knows that the soil is warming, the sun is shining, the daylight hours are longer and living things are waking from their slumber of overwintering or hibernation.

Snowflake Science.
The next part of our workshop we move onto Snowflake Science. If we study the formation (not growing as that would imply a living thing) of a snowflake. We see that it always forms a flat 3D structure, given enough water the shape will be a full Hexagon, given less water it will have more gaps. I like to relate this to a fingerprint – that each child is unique and special like a snowflake, but we all have similar characteristics (in humans we have arms, legs, head); and in snowflakes, they all look the same but are all different. So how do they look the same?

Ask the second big Science Question?

 So how do they look the same? What makes them look similar?
 Then you will get the list of facts from the children – tell them if they describe what they are seeing they can’t be wrong.
 They are white
 They are made of ice
 They are made from water freezing
 The original catalyst forming the centre point or a place to form was a piece of dust or pollen in the atmosphere
 Then the snowflake will form the strongest shape in nature a Hexagon. A Hexagon has 6 sides and six corners. The snowflake will not fill the gaps to make a full Hexagon if it has not got the right conditions.
 I believe water in addition is responsible for this hexagonal shape explained through chemistry, the shapes are symmetrical, have a centre point, and a line of symmetry.
 Interesting that bees and wasps also make this shape.
 Supposedly it is a very strong mechanical shape in nature.
 Some children would say they are beautifully designed.

Then we watch the snowflake forming under a microscope (a film that has been made by a clever guy – credited on my website his name is Slava Ivanov). We watch some other inspirational video clips, and moving music and do an activity. You can see the link and video here – 

It is an emotional lesson and a great one to end the busy term. It also gives a chance for the teachers to take a well-deserved breather from the intensity of the day.


Santa Snowflakes workshop

One last Santa Snowflakes workshop on Monday 21st December and that’s a wrap.
I delivered the workshops from junior infants to Fourth class in five schools in Dublin and Wicklow. The time allocation ranged from 30mins-1.5hour depending on teachers requirements, age of children.


Deer Santa

With the older children we spoke about all the elements of Christmas that we get from nature; Robin; Wren; Holly; Mistletoe; Christmas Trees; mention of smells of the Turkey; spuds & Christmas tree were in the air. Then we studied the formation of a snowflake & studied the fantastic snowflake forming…

snowtime from Slava Ivanov on Vimeo.

Then we saw the wonderful snowflake falling:

and then of course walking in the air

Then we made either reindeer food bags or a pine cone activity….


Winter Snowflake Science

The workshops coming up are as follows:


 January – Winter lecture series – From the Amazon to Wicklow
 February – Signs of spring
 March – Signs of spring
 April – Signs of spring
 May- Flower & pollinators
 June-Flower & pollinators
 September-Trees & Autumn colours
 October-Trees & Autumn colours
 November- Trees & Autumn colours
 December-Snowflakes


Call or book me for classes 

Winter Project: 6th Class learn all about Bees!

Labelling of the Bee

Labelling of the Bee

This Autumn I worked with a Primary school in the South Dublin suburbs and they requested that we start a project on bees initially for submission to the Young Scientist competition. They wanted to: To learn more about Bees, their habitat, and their impact on our lives – working with two sixth class groups of 16 and 18 at different times. It was a fascinating project for all concerned. We primarily focused on the Irish Honey Bee, although they were aware of the other 100 bee species native to Ireland. We focused on the casts within the Hive, the morphology, behavior, and dynamics within the bee colony throughout the year. The children made hand-made models of bees out of art materials.

We also completed a ‘Trees for Bees Habitat Map’. This will tie in very nicely with their Biodiversity Flag as they must do a habitat map for this flag. There were 83 mature trees on the grounds hundreds of years old. So we used an existing arborist report and mapped the 83 trees onto a large a1 site map of the school. The students went out with ipads and took morphological pictures of the trees inc. leaf & bark rubbings. Then we isolated the trees known be beneficial to the bees and recorded them on the map specifically – out of the selection these were noted as ‘Horse Chestnut, Lime & Sycamore trees’. There were significant hedgerows with a large Ivy/hawthorn/bramble/ populations but this would be recorded on a separate piece of work.

The children learned how the bees communicate through the ‘waggle dance’, and the ‘tremble dance’. They learned about pollination and the flower morphology. They were fascinated to learn about the Queen, we even dedicated a ‘Queen Bee workshop’!!. The breakdown of functions within the hive depending on the age of the bees and the time of year, and what the bees do with the pollen and nectar they collect. Every week, I went away with questions such as ‘How long does it take for the bees to produce a wild hive, how long does it take for the hive to get to 50-60k bees?, how many stings would it take to kill a human?, why are African bees so aggressive?, what’s in the queen bee sting? – is it different, who makes the queen cells?, is inbreeding an issue in the colony?, explain the evolution of insects?, how many queen cells are there?, what are the differences between a Bumblebee and wasp colony?……It was a real pleasure to work on this project with 6th class children.


This piece originally appeared on the Heritage in Schools website.