Arboretum News

Kids Activity: Snow Shapes

Study snowflakes and marvel at the unique beauty of each ice crystal.

COVID-19 Update: All members and visitors need to make a reservation in advance of their visit to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Find updates and information here.

It’s almost possible to see the individual snowflakes sitting on this statue’s hand at the Arboretum. The photo was taken after a March snow in 2013. Photo by Don Olson.

By Reba Luiken, Arboretum coordinator of informal interpretation

I think that falling snow is one of the most magical gifts from mother nature. Growing up, one of my favorite things was seeing snow falling in the early morning under the glow of streetlights on my way to school. It always seemed much more rare than snow falling in the afternoon or evening. This activity is best done during daylight hours, when you will have the best view of snowflakes up close with the help of a piece of black fabric. 

– Falling snow
– Black fabric (I used a shirt)
– Magnifying glass (optional) 


1. Check the weather and prepare. You’ll have to be ready in the moment for this activity that only works when snow is falling.

2. Place your fabric outside or in the freezer so it can chill. Warm fabric will melt snowflakes as soon as they hit, so you’ll want to make sure your fabric is the same temperature as the air.

3. Hold out your fabric or lay it on the ground where snowflakes are falling. You might want to leave your fabric for a few minutes while you play in the snow, or you can watch the snowflakes as they fall.

4. Look closely at the snowflakes. You can use a magnifying glass if you have one.  You can also bring them inside, but this will make them melt faster!

  • Are they falling in clumps or one at a time? 
  • What shape are they? 
  • Do they have three points? Six? Twelve? 
This image comes from Snowflakes: A Chapter from the Book of Nature, by Israel Perkins Warren, published in 1863. Have you seen any snowflakes resembling these shapes?


Snowflakes are not very easy to photograph! They’re small, lots of different colors, and they melt if you breathe on them (and sometimes even if you don’t).  I was not able to take very good pictures of my snowflakes, but I noticed that my snowflakes had long thing arms and looked mostly like this snowflake photographed by Wilson Bentley.

Most of the snowflakes I caught were in big clumps, so they were not perfect with six points like the one in the photo. Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley spent many years taking pictures of snowflakes on his farm in Vermont. There is a great picture book about him, called Snowflake Bentley, with lots of pictures of snow. Watch Snowflake Bentley, by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, being read on YouTube.

What kind of snowflakes did you catch?  Take some time to compare them to the types in the chart above and see if you can draw the snowflakes you see.  You might have to work quickly!

1 comment on “Kids Activity: Snow Shapes

%d bloggers like this: