Unlocking the Secrets of the Winter Solstice
Unlocking the Secrets of the Winter Solstice:
An Educational Journey about the Longest Night of the Year
By Christina Webster, Lead ELA Tutor at The Community Classroom
As the days grow shorter and the air turns chilly, the winter solstice marks the shortest day and longest night of the year. Celebrated around the world, this astronomical event offers a unique opportunity to engage kids in learning about science, nature, and cultural traditions. Here are some fun and educational winter solstice activities that you can enjoy with your children.
What Causes the Winter Solstice?
We celebrate the winter solstice on the shortest day of the year, when the Earth is tilted, and the part where we live in the northern hemisphere is leaning farthest away from the sun. That’s why it’s so dark, and we get less sunlight, which affects the amount of daylight we receive.
Exploring Different Cultures Through Storytelling and Myths
Many cultures have myths and stories associated with the winter solstice. Share age-appropriate stories from around the world with your children. For example, you can delve into the Inuit story of the Raven and the Sun. These stories not only entertain but also provide cultural context.
Observing States of Matter with Candles
One of the most common winter solstice traditions is lighting candles to symbolize the return of the sun’s warmth and light. Have your children help light candles and use this opportunity to talk about the three states of matter: solid, liquid, and gas.
- An unlit candle represents the solid state. Discuss how solids have a fixed shape.
- Light the candle and as it drips, emphasize that it’s now in a liquid state, which takes the shape of its container.
- Point out the candle flame, explaining that the heat turns wax into a gas. Discuss gas properties, like how a gas can fill an entire space. That’s how the smell of a candle can fill the room.
Get Familiar with Nature. What do you notice? What do you wonder?
This craft project is designed to create beautiful ice ornaments that can catch the sunlight when hung outdoors while also sparking conversations while out in nature. Here are some step-by-step instructions for making ice suncatchers using natural materials:
- Collect treasures such as leaves, berries, grasses, and more while on a nature walk. While on your walk you can ask open-ended questions like “What do you notice…?” and “What do you wonder…?” Asking open-ended questions encourages your child to say more and explain what they’re thinking and why they think that. By asking what they notice or what they wonder, you can build on their understanding, all while having a casual conversation with your little one.
- Grab a pie pan and arrange your items from your walk in the container. While you do this, discuss the items that you’ve found.
- Add water to the pie pan, and place it outside (if it’s cold enough!) or in the freezer so that the water in the pie pan completely freezes.
- Once frozen, the ice suncatcher can be removed from the container and hung using a hole made with a drill.
- Observe and enjoy!
Reflect and Set Intentions
Use the solstice as an opportunity for reflection and goal-setting with your children. Discuss what they hope to achieve in the coming year, what they’re thankful for, and how they can spread kindness and light in their lives. Practicing gratitude can have a wide range of positive effects on various aspects of life, including increased resilience, improved sleep quality, and a greater sense of life satisfaction. Developing a gratitude habit can be a simple but powerful way to enhance your overall well-being.
The winter solstice offers a unique chance to engage kids in learning about science, nature, culture, and meaningful traditions. These activities provide a wonderful way to connect with your children while fostering their curiosity and creativity during the winter months.