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Winter School Programs

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Winter bannerIntroduction                                                                                                     •  State Standards (pdf)

Winter is a time of survival in the northern latitudes. Discover the tactics employed by plants and animals to survive Wisconsin's most harsh season. Explore the reaches of the nature center's landscape that are only accessible during winter. Discover the following winter concepts on a naturalist-led walk or snowshoe hike:

• Winter Ecology
• True Hibernation
• Wisconsin's Winter Residents
• Winter Adaptations of Plants and Animals
• Animal Tracking and Signs
• Animal Dens
• Environmental Awareness
• Winter Survival for Everyone


Winter Field Trips at Mosquito Hill Nature Center

We want your visit to Mosquito Hill Nature Center to be an educational and enjoyable experience. Therefore, it is important that students are dressed appropriately for our time in the outdoors. Here are some tips on dressing warmly for you to share with your students and parents/chaperones.

Clothing That's Best:

• Long underwear (synthetic or silk). winter pack boots

• Ski pants, snowmobile suits or wool pants.

• Layers of warm sweaters or fleece jackets underneath winter outer jackets.

• Felt pack boots or some other insulated boots. The heavier the boot, the better. Those that lace up are better than slip-ons. The taller the better. We should be prepared for deep snow in some places.

winter clothing• Stocking caps (something to cover your ears and head completely).

• Mittens (2 pairs if necessary).

• Wool socks layered on top of a second pair of lighter, preferably synthetic, socks.

• Scarves or neck gaiters.

• Wind suits are only effective with plenty of warm clothes layered underneath (wool or fleece, for example).

Clothing To Avoid:

• Blue jeans and cotton in general.

• Thin socks or only one pair of socks.

• Ear muffs/head bands (they don't cover your head).

• Baseball caps (are not warm and don't cover your ears).

• Gloves (mittens are warmer).

• Ankle high boots or unlined boots.

We also understand that most of children’s clothing is cotton and that some families may not have the resources to provide the most appropriate winter clothing for their children. When in doubt: layer, layer, layer. One shirt or sweater under a parka is less effective than 2 or 3 layers under an average weight winter jacket. (Keep layers loose to trap warmer air next to your body.) Two pairs of socks are better than one.

It's much easier to remove a layer if you're too warm than to be cold if you haven't brought enough clothing along.

Winter Vocabulary

At the end of the field trip, students will have been introduced to several of the following words:
Brush Pile
Fore Foot
Hind Foot


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Winter Pre-Activities

  • Where Do They Go In Winter?
    OBJECTIVE:  To help students understand where animals spend the cold winter months and why.

    EXPLANATION: Hibernation is a survival strategy that can be very successful in environments where food is scarce or difficult to find during a long, cold winter season. Animals that hibernate are typically called deep hibernators or true hibernators. A true hibernator’s metabolism, heart rate, and body temperature drop significantly and remain this way for many weeks or months. Other animals exhibit a less profound inactive state called torpor or dormancy. Torpor tends to be very short-term and the animal’s body temperature does not drop as low as a true hibernator’s. An animal in torpor is also capable of relatively quick arousal. Hibernation and torpor allow animals to conserve energy and survive the winter with little or no food. Animals that do not hibernate or go dormant may migrate to another location. Still others remain active throughout the winter months.  

    ACTIVITY: Have students choose one animal from the following list:  

    Little brown bat
    River otter
    Black bear
    Cottontail rabbit
    Monarch butterfly
    Striped skunk
    Wood frog
    Red fox
    Box turtle
    White-tailed deer
    Eastern gray squirrel
    Field cricket
    Garter snake

    Blue spotted salamander
    Blue jay
    Pileated woodpecker
    Short-tailed weasel
    White-footed mouse
    Great horned owl

    Ask the students to research their animal to determine the following:

    •  How does the animal spend the winter? (Active, hibernate, dormant, migrate)
    • How does the animal stay warm in the winter?
    • What food does it eat?
    • Where does the animal live?
    • When does the animal have babies?

    Have each student write or give an oral report on his or her animal. Each report should include a drawing or photograph of the animal they researched.

  • Blubber Mittens
    OBJECTIVE: To illustrate an adaptation that allows certain animals to tolerate cold temperatures.

    EXPLANATION: Animals that live in cold, arctic climates, like polar bears, whales or walrus’, have a layer of fat (blubber) under their skin.  Blubber helps keep the animal’s body warm by providing an insulative layer between its muscles and internal organs, and the environment. A polar bear’s blubber layer can measure more than four inches thick. In fact, they’re so well insulated that they can quickly overheat when they run. Wisconsin winter residents, such as beavers or otters, also maintain a relatively thick layer of insulative fat. This fat, however, is considerably less dense than that of arctic animals, therefore cannot be considered blubber.

    ACTIVITY: Have the students put a rubber glove on one of their hands. Cover the gloved hand with an even layer of shortening, such as Crisco, using a spoon. Put another glove or plastic bag over the shortening-covered hand and secure it with a rubber band (this will prevent water from seeping into the glove). Next, ask the students to place both hands into a bucket of ice water. Which hand feels warmer? Why? 

  • Tricky Tracks
    OBJECTIVE: To show students how tracks in the snow help us identify which animals made them.

    EXPLANATION: Many animals that remain active in the winter are seldom seen. Instead, snow covered areas record the activities of these animals by displaying their tracks. Tracks are animal footprints left incoyote tracks the snow. Tracking is simply finding and identifying these tracks. To become a tracking sleuth you must learn to recognize different animal footprints. Prints can be identified by shape, size, pattern of the toe pads, stride, gait, distance, and habitat. To narrow the field of identification, consider the species that live in your area in winter.

    ACTIVITY: Have each student make a thumbprint of his/her right thumb on two index cards. Use an inkpad to make the prints. Collect one card from each student and randomly redistribute those cards to the class. Ask each person to locate the “owner” of the unknown print by comparing it with each person’s personal print card. Was it easy to identify the thumbprints? Why or why not?

    Next, divide the students into small groups of 2 or 3. Hand each group a picture of an animal track obtained from a track book or chart. Do not label the picture with the name of the animal but do give each group a list of tracks that were handed out. Use the following animals:

    White-tailed deer
    Red fox
    Great horned owl
    RaccoonCottontail rabbit
    Black bear
    Striped skunk
    Gray squirrel
    White-footed mouse
    deer tracks
    Using a variety of field guides, ask each group to figure out what animal track they have by answering the following questions:

    • What is the size of the footprint? (Provide rulers for each group to measure the length and width of each footprint.)
    • Does the print have toes? How many? Does the front foot have the same number of toes as the back foot?
    • What is the shape of the footprint (circular, oval, rectangular, heart shaped)?
    • Is the front foot smaller than the back foot?
    • Does the animal print show claws?

    Once the students identify their animal, have them present the answer to the class. Were they correct? Was it easy to figure out what animal the track belonged to? Why or why not?

  • Winter Survival
    OBJECTIVE: To give students a chance to think through a winter survival situation and recognize the dangers of winter to the human body.

    DEFINITION: No one plans on having to use survival skills during a leisurely winter hike, but unforeseen circumstances may arise. Winter is a much more harsh environment to cope with due to cold temperatures, brisk winds, and shorter daylight hours. A fast approaching winter storm, disorientation, or physical injury may also force one to switch to survival mode. Yet taking a few precautionary steps in preparing for outdoor adventures can make a difference in life or death situations.

    ACTIVITY: Divide students to get into small groups (3 or 4 students each). Set the situation: Somehow the students are stranded in the woods and are unable to return to the building, 10 miles away, before sundown. The temperature is dropping and a snowstorm is approaching. The students have brought no food or water with them. Ask each group to write down their answers to the following questions:

    • Should the group hike out or stay put and wait for help?
    • Split up the group or stay together (if hiking out)?
    • If staying put, how will the group draw attention to themselves to be rescued?
    • What will the group do for shelter? Warmth? Food? Water?

    Have each group present their ideas to the rest of the class. What group had the best ideas? What sort of supplies would have made the survival scenario easier (knife, matches, candy bar, pot or pan, etc)?

    Next, give the groups a copy of the following items (without the answers in parenthesis) and ask them to come up with uses for each of them:

    winter campfire• Matches- (start a fire, use as kindling)
    • Mirror- (a reflector to signal for help, to break and use jagged edge as knife)
    • Rope- (hold branches or pine boughs together for shelter, pull apart to use as fire starter)
    • Flares- (signal for help, start a fire)
    • Red Bandana- (keep warm, tie on tree for signal)
    • Compass- (find direction)
    • Dry Soup Mix- (food)
    • Whistle- (signal for help, scare away animals)
    • Empty Coffee Can- (melt or heat snow in it, cook food in it)
    • Kleenex- (fire starter, put into mittens or boots to keep fingers and toes warm)
    • Shovel- (Dig hole in snow to use for shelter)
    • Knife- (cut branches or chop ice)
    • Candle- (start a fire, cook food, warmth)

    Write down each item and its uses on the board. Did anyone come up with a really creative answer?
    Discuss the danger of dehydration, hypothermia, and frostbite. When hiking, a person loses quite a bit of water through sweating and breathing. It is very important that a person has an adequate supply of water on a hiking trip to avoid dehydration. How long would a person survive without food (a month)? How long would a person survive without water (2-5 days)? Cold temperatures can be uncomfortable and very cold temperatures can be dangerous unless you are dressed to stay warm. The “wind chill factor” means that when the winds are blowing, the temperature may feel much colder than it is. To avoid frostbite or hypothermia, discuss the ways students can stay warm (Refer to "Winter Field Trips At Mosquito Hill Nature Center at the top of this page).

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Winter Post Activities





  1.  Life Cycle Mobiles
    OBJECTIVE: To illustrate the activities of animals throughout different seasons the year.

    EXPLANATION: Hibernation or dormancy is only one segment of an animal's yearly life cycle. After hibernation, an animal resumes its normal level of activity, including mating and raising its young. The stages of their lives are often timed to coincide appropriately with the weather; a resting stage during harsh conditions and an active stage at times when there is enough food and warmth to survive.  

    ACTIVITY: Have each student pick an animal to research or use the information gathered from the pre-activity, “Where Do They Go In Winter?” Ask them to find information about their animal’s activities throughout the year and write their findings on a separate note card for each season. Guide students through the following steps to show the seasons of their animals' life cycles:  

    Open the top flaps of an empty cracker box, and cut off about 3" from the open end.Poke two holes in the closed end of the box and thread with yarn to hang the mobile.Cover each side of the box with 4 different colors of construction paper to represent a season, such as white for winter, green for spring, light blue or yellow for summer, and orange for fall.Have the students draw pictures or use photographs from magazines to depict animal activities in each season. Attach the note card for each season to the bottom of its corresponding panel with colored yarn.Ask the students to present their mobiles to the class.  

  2. Classroom Hibernation
    OBJECTIVE: To illustrate the process animals go through to prepare for hibernation.

    EXPLANATION: Animals that hibernate in winter must possess specific physical adaptations. For example, animals must put on an insulative layer of fat to keep them warm. They do this by eating larger quantities of food in late summer and fall. True hibernators breathe very slowly, as their heart rates drop way down. Also, hibernators must find adequate cover for the winter months to shelter them from freezing temperatures and snowfall. Ground squirrels for instance, dig deep underground tunnels and line their sleeping chambers with leaves for comfort.

    sleeping bagACTIVITY: Reserve some class time for students to "slow down" and take a short winter's rest (hibernate). Assign a special day and encourage students to bring in pillows, slippers, snack crackers, juice boxes, and favorite books, puzzles, or quiet games. Stock your class library with books about animals that hibernate, as well as other topics of interest to children. Then allow students to find a quiet private area in the room to "nest" during their hibernation. They can line their nests with snacks, personal items, and books from the class shelves. As they nestle down, invite children to quietly engage in individual activities. After a predetermined amount of time, have each student write a story about their experience as a "hibernating animal".


  3. When Food Freezes
    OBJECTIVE: To demonstrate how wintry conditions make it difficult for animals to find and get to food.  

    EXPLANATION: When winter's cold temperatures and ice arrive, food becomes scarce for animals in the wild. Some animals have an instinct to store (cache) food in the fall while others do not. Those animals that must search for food, such as deer, rabbits, mink, or weasels, suffer more hardships during a severe winter because food is more scarce.

    ACTIVITY: In advance, fill several ice cube trays with water and drop a small pineapple chunk into each section. Allow the water to freeze. Then pop out the cubes and give one to each child. Ask students to smell their ice cubes. Can they smell the pineapple? Challenge them to eat the pineapple chunks out of their ice cubes. How difficult is this task? Explain that, due to the low food supply in winter, active animals eat all summer and fall to fatten their bodies. The stored fat provides fuel to help the animals survive during the winter.

  4. Stormy Weather
    OBJECTIVE: Students will be able to identify that humans and wildlife share environments and experience some of the same phenomena.

    EXPLANATION: This activity makes use of an instructional technique called visualization or guided imagery. While the teacher recites a story, students imagine that they are part of the scenario. Learning theorists tell us this technique helps students to process information and facilitates long-term memory and comprehension of concepts. 

    ACTIVITY: Provide the students with the following instructions:

    “You are to try to imagine the things you will hear me describing. I won’t put in all the details so you must try to see and feel as clearly as you can the things that I describe. Before we begin, I want you to decide who you will be during this activity. You may either be yourself or an animal. You don’t have to do anything special if you choose to be an animal. You will just visualize things from the point of view of the animal you pick.”

    “Now, we are ready to begin. Get yourselves in a comfortable place. Don’t worry about who is sitting next to you. All of you will have your eyes closed. Just do your best to imagine the things I will describe. Okay, close your eyes and imagine what you hear…"

    "It is a late winter’s night. The air is cold…There is silence all around you…Somehow you can feel some changes coming in the weather…In the distance you can see large clouds moving across the sky, blocking out the light of the full moon…The wind blows and you feel the temperature dropping…You begin to shiver…A stronger gust of wind blows and you hear the sound of trees creaking…You need to find shelter, a safe place…You feel cold freezing rain as it hits your face making it sting…It is totally dark and the wind gusts are getting stronger…The freezing rain is now turning to heavy, wet snow…You need to find a place to stay dry…You are getting very tired and cold…It is becoming difficult to walk …You manage to find a place to get out of the wind and snow…You watch the snow as it comes down harder and harder…The wind is howling…it snows…and snows…and snows…Suddenly, it all stops…and then stillness…The clouds have moved out allowing the light of the full moon to shine again…The storm has passed.”

    Wait a few seconds and then tell the students to open their eyes. It is now time to find out what the students saw and felt during the guided imagery. For those that would like to share their experience, find out who they were (human or animal), what kind of animal (if applicable), the shelter they found, and what happened to them throughout the storm. If preferred, have the students draw pictures of what they imagined.

    Next, discuss with the class the idea that many creatures, including humans, share the environment. Whether we live in the city, the desert, or on a mountaintop, people are not the only ones living in those settings. Even if we don’t see many animals where we live, they are there in some form- from the ant on the sidewalk to the spider in the garden. Events like heavy snowfall, a strong wind, or a strong summer storm, can all serve as special reminders. Every creature that experienced this imaginary storm experienced some of the same things, although not in exactly the same ways. Remind the students that the next time they encounter a winter snowstorm or a summer rainstorm…to wonder where the birds are, the spiders, the fox, and the bear. Where are the other creatures that might be experiencing this storm?

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