L, aged five, believes that Christmas has to have snow. So our Christmas playtimes had to have some snow. There are so many ways of doing this – rice, salt, sugar, cotton wool, flour – all make great sensory snow-themed play materials, but today I believe we found the very best fake snow.
My plan originally was to buy some Insta-Snow powder and have a full on snowy play session, probably outside. We will still do this outside, with hats and scarves and all of what L expects from snow – but I couldn’t wait to order some, and whilst googling to find out what it contained and how it works (anticipating L’s inevitable barrage of questions), I discovered the hidden science lesson about superabsorbent polymers. Snow powder is also known as sodium polyacrylate, I discovered, and one of its most common uses is in babies nappies – to act as the absorbent part. So we already have plenty of sodium polyacrylate in our house without even knowing it! How excited was I to make this discovery, and couldn’t wait to dissect a nappy (yes, I really am that excitable!).
As it happens, we had a pack of cheap supermarket nappies that we are no longer using, basically because we may as well not bother putting a nappy on F. Perfect for dissection! So we cut open a couple of nappies and pulled out the absorbent fluff.
I gave the absorbent part of one nappy each to L and N in a bowl, let them feel it, describe it, and think ab out what might happen when water was added. They both thought it would go soggy, like cotton wool or kitchen paper might. L described it as “fluffy”, N as “crunchy” and “crispy”. Here they are, investigating:
Once they had played with it, pulled it apart, squished it and generally had a good time, we added some water. For L, I asked him to measure the water in a jug and find out how much liquid the nappy would hold (we will one day compare different nappy brands). He was good at this and found that the one nappy held 1,800ml of water before it stopped soaking up the liquid (and still not absorbent enough for F – how much does my baby wee??!). N wanted to measure hers, so although I hadn’t intended to do this with her she measured it in cupfuls of water, and counted five.
This is the good bit. Adding the water produced the nearest thing to snow that I could manage without actually taking them to Lapland. And more of it than I would ever have thought – we ended up with two large bowlfuls just from the two disposable nappies. I can’t wait to do this on a bigger scale (we have a whole pack of these nappies just waiting for this day!). The material it produces is crystalline, it is cold, it is mouldable, and slightly crunchy. It doesn;t compact quite as much as real snow but it is pretty darn good. And I (I mean, the children) loved playing with it.
the children quickly discovered they could mould it, and had fun making handprints, thumbprints, ice cream cones, snowballs – and we even made a snowman!
He had a pasta nose, bead eyes and the lid of a spray paint canister for a hat. L made him two large feet! Snowmen went on for quite a while, and it was great fun. We kept our crystals to find out what happens to them overnight. I genuinely don’t know, so it will be as much of a surprise for me as the children!