Today's post is written by Lisa Salyers, a part-time elementary librarian at a small private Catholic school in Ohio for grades 1-6. Lisa has been a school librarian for three years, and she has six years of public library experience as well. Lisa has a MLIS from Kent State University.
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Making snowflakes is one of my favorite activities to do with my 3rd graders after Christmas break. We can do it as long as there is snow on the ground, which is usually not a problem in Ohio.
I love to do an activity connected to the story I am reading that day. Since each class only has 30 minutes a week for library, usually taken out of their Language Arts time, it is challenging to find something that will work in only a 5-8 minute time frame that the kids will enjoy. One of my favorite activities is reading the Caldecott Medal book, Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, to the 3rd graders while they cut out snowflakes. There is some prep time for this activity as I pre- cut and fold snowflake templates for each child plus 4-5 extra for kids who mistakenly cut through their template. (Coffee filters can also be used and are much quicker to prepare for the students, but I take advantage of the copy paper which is free to the staff.) After alerting their teachers they are to bring scissors to library, the students each pick up a snowflake template (the folded and cut triangle) as they walk in the door and I briefly explain how to cut out a snowflake. My first year doing this I discovered that many students have never cut a snowflake before! I quickly demonstrate what happens if you cut the bottom tip off the triangle, or a corner and unfold it for them, so they have a better idea of what design they want to try to create, while reminding them to very carefully unfold the paper so as not to rip their designs. The intricately cut snowflakes tend to stick together more as they are unfolded.
Students find a spot at a table or on the rug and cut out their snowflake design while I read the engaging story of Wilson Bentley, a farmer in Vermont who begins to photograph snowflakes and other elements of nature for all to enjoy in the late 1800s. Bentley is credited for being the first person to photograph a single snow crystal and this was his main passion.
Displaying the Snowflakes
After the students are satisfied with their snowflake, they put their name on it somewhere and leave them (with much grumbling, because they want to take them home) for me to laminate. The library has an entire wall of windows facing south, so after these amazing snowflakes are laminated and cut out, I hang them in the windows (name facing inward) interspersed with die-cut snowflakes and the result looks amazing. I just love this activity since I get to display student work (which doesn’t occur very often in libraryland), and quite frankly, these original snowflakes are much better than store bought decorations. Students in other grades like finding their siblings’ and friends’ snowflakes on the windows and want to make them, too.
The snowflakes block very little of the light coming in, they don’t fade, and they look marvelous from the outside at night- it’s almost as if they “glow” in the windows. Our school is downtown so our sidewalks are right up against the building, and the snowflakes can be seen very clearly from the street. I have seen cars slow down to look at the snowflakes, as well as students point out their snowflake to their parents as they drive by. At the first sign of spring I take them down and pass them back, but offer to take any snowflake any student does not want to take home to use for decorations. Last year I recycled those snowflakes for a snowman bulletin board and again the kids were so excited to find the snowflakes they donated in the library on display again!
I try to have the snowflake books available from our public library that Bentley published containing the photographs of his snowflakes for the students to look through after they check out their books:
Snow Crystals by W.A. Bentley
Snowflakes in Photographs by W.A. Bentley
I also have a pathfinder available for them if they are interested in learning more about Wilson Bentley, photographing snowflakes, and snowflakes in general, along with quick and simple directions on how to make your own homemade snowflake so they can make more snowflakes at home, if they like. Here are a few titles and websites from my pathfinder:
My brother loved snowflakes: the story of Wilson A. Bentley, the snowflake man / by Mary Bahr; illustrated by Laura Jacobsen.
The snowflake man: a biography of Wilson A. Bentley / by Duncan C. Blanchard.
The Official Snowflake Bentley Site
Bentley Snow Crystal Collection of the Buffalo Museum of Science
Shows many slides of his snow crystal photography
OR make your own virtual snowflake – you can save and email it, too!
Connecting the Activity to Library Skills
If I have a few extra minutes, sometimes I pick up the two books from our local library on William Bentley’s snowflake pictures, hide the call number, and ask where in our school library these books would be shelved. I was pleasantly surprised when I received some thoughtful answers:
One student thought it should be shelved with the weather books in the 550s, while another thought photography in the 770s. Another student thought it seemed like it told a great deal about his life so she thought it might be a biography. Still another student thought the snowflake pictures looked so beautiful that they could be with the art books in the 700s.
This is such an easy activity that I love because I get amazing décor for my library, the kids get a piece of their artwork laminated to take home, and they are introduced to a book and types of books they probably would not have picked up on their own.
What's your favorite winter library activity? Share your ideas with us in the comments!