Nature Notes from Common Ground

Week of February 8, 2021

Ice Crust

We’ve been having so much fun in the snow here at Common Ground this past week. When the snow fell on Monday, it was light and fluffy, perfect powder to jump in, easy to shovel, good for skiing. With warmer temperatures and sun, by Wednesday the snow was perfect for packing. We had snowball fights and created many amazing snow sculptures here on campus. We even experimented with building two kinds of snow shelters. Over the weekend, we had a warm day followed by more snow and freezing temperatures. Given this, we found an icy crust over the snow - which was later buried by more snow!

While the texture of the snow changes the ways we play in it, for animals in the forest, these changing conditions could be a matter of life and death. When there is an icy crust on the snow, some animals have a harder time getting around. Deer hooves can pierce through the icy crust, making them slower than a potential predator who may be lighter and able to race across the surface without breaking through. Squirrels looking for cached food may have difficulty digging through the crust, while turkeys aren’t able to break through at all. Small rodents, on the other hand, safe in the subnivean layer (see last week’s note) have an additional shield of ice between them and the foxes and owls hunting them.


Nature activity of the week

Melting Snow

Snow is in the forecast again this week, so it seems like a good time to explore the snow with a science activity.

Materials: container (a quart glass mason jar is perfect, but any container you can see through will work), snow, marker or tape, kitchen scale

  1. Begin by thinking or talking about what makes up snow. Many people know that snow melts into water - but how much snow makes how much water? And what do we mean by how much?

  2. Head outside and fill your jar with snow (preferably clean!).

  3. Weigh your jar on your kitchen scale, and write down the weight.

  4. When the snow melts, how much water do you think will be in the jar? Use a marker or a piece of tape to mark your prediction. You can also predict whether you think it will weigh more, less, or the same.

  5. Place the jar somewhere out of the way in your house or classroom and do something else for a while.

  6. Check back in every so often and watch how the snow changes as it melts.

  7. Once the snow is fully melted, take a look at the water level in the jar. Is it where you predicted?

  8. Weigh your jar of water. Does it weigh the same or different as when it was full of snow?

  9. Discuss what you found. Why do you think this happened? Did the results match your predictions? Discuss possible explanations. You can also try this with different snowfalls to see if you get the same results.

Adaptations: For older students, you can talk about density, volume, and changes of phase. Some math could be involved. For younger students, you can adapt this activity to simply describe the changes they see (and feel) as the snow changes to water.

This activity was adapted from Project Seasons.


Hike of the Week

Meig's Point

Each week we share a kid-friendly hike or other outdoor adventure.

For a winter visit to Meig’s Point at Hammonasset Beach, click here!


Weekly Video

Winter wetland exploration



Grant Opportunities

Does your school’s garden need funding? Check out these Grant Opportunities for school and youth garden programs.

Common Ground High School Open House

Thinking about high school options for your child?

Come find out about Common Ground: a unique, college-preparatory high school with an environmental justice mission.

  • A Public Charter High School open to students from New Haven & all Connecticut towns

  • More than a school: An inclusive community of 225 students, dedicated to the environment and social justice

  • A challenging, interdisciplinary core curriculum that gets students ready for college and careers, leadership and life

  • Students find their paths through after-school programs, paid green jobs, dual enrollment, internships & unique courses

  • Located on 20-acre campus at the base of West Rock -- a farm, in a forest, in a city

Join us for a virtual open house, Tuesday, February 9, 5-7 pm.

To schedule a visit (virtual or in-person) contact Sharyn Lopez:

To receive information on visiting virtually, please submit an application on our website:


About this series

Our programs for children at Common Ground are place based, hands on, and focus on community, friendship, and nature-based learning and play.

In this time of virtual learning and social distancing, we seek to support teachers and families in getting outside in safe and healthy ways. We hope this series provides content and activities to help your students or your family engage in nature-based learning, whether you are learning in person or virtually.

Some of the funding we rely on to keep Nature Notes free comes from the Robert F. Schumann Foundation and The Claire C. Bennitt Watershed Fund, established by the South Central CT Regional Water Authority.