• Why Not Winter

Regional Science Center

  • Why Not Winter

    The Regional Science Center's Why Not Winter program begins during the third week of January and ends the last week of February. The program is a four to five hour program that is all outdoors at the center's Buffalo River Site. The program is geared to 4th through 6th grade students. The program itself consists of three lessons: Winter Survival, Animal Adaptations and Orienteering.

    If you have any questions or are interested in registering for this program, please contact Tony Bormann at bormann@mnstate.edu.

    Winter Survival

    As residents of the upper Midwest, we can expect to encounter many extremes of weather conditions throughout the year. Winter is a time when these extremes can show themselves. The objective of this lesson is to help students prepare for an extended stay outdoors during the winter season. This lesson will help you dress appropriately for your visit. You will learn about the warning signs of a winter medical emergency like hypothermia or frostbite. And you will prepare a wilderness meal over a simple fire that you will build during your visit to the center.

    Dressing for Your Visit to the Regional Science Center

    The secret to staying warm and comfortable is layering. Like fluffed up fur or feathers on animals, layers of clothing trap air to prevent heat loss. Layers also allow you more freedom of movement. You can shed outer garments when you're more active and generating extra heat. Remember, sweating can be like falling into a lake. Heat loss is rapid when your skin becomes wet. To be really warm when it's cold outside you should wear:

    • A hat that covers your ears
    • A T-shirt (wool-blend is best)
    • A wind-proof jacket
    • Wool-blend underpants
    • 2 pairs of socks
    • A scarf to keep your neck covered
    • 1 or more thin sweaters
    • Mittens
    • Wool of insulated slacks
    • Winter boots

    Winter Safety Concerns Regarding Hypothermia and Frostbite

    Hypothermia and Frostbite are preventable by dressing appropriately for outdoor activities and recognizing the initial warning signs. See the weather cancellation policy for details on what weather conditions will necessitate cancellation.

    Hypothermia is the lowering of the body core temperature that can result in the following physical effects:

    • 98.6 degrees F - Normal temperature
    • Below 96 degrees F - Muscle coordination deteriorates, shivering increases
    • Below 93 degrees F - Violent shivering, loss of ability to move muscles and to reason
    • Below 87 degrees F - Lose consciousness
    • Below 75 degrees F - Death

    Warning signs include: uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion. Medical care should be sought if person's temperature is below 95 degrees F.

    Frostbite is the formation of actual ice crystal under the skin. Usually effects exposed areas and extremities first. It appears as grayish or yellow-white spots on the skin.

    Packing for Your Wilderness Meal at the Regional Science Center

    Since students will be working in groups of four, all materials, unless otherwise stated, are for a group of four.

    Materials and Supplies for Cooking:

    1. One, empty 3 lb. coffee can can be used as a large cooking pot (washed with label removed). Cans can sometimes be secured from the school cafeteria.

    2. Smaller, nesting, 2 lb. can to be used as a small cooking pot.

    3. One, 1/2 gallon clean milk carton for packaging food.

    4. One, wire coat hanger to be used as a "bail" for cooking pots.

    5. Four or more bread-size, plastic bags for food packaging and trash disposal.

    6. Two cleaned, empty plastic milk jugs for water.

    7. Insulated mug and metal spoon for each student as eating utensils.

    Sample Menu:

    Instant soup, crackers, cheese, hot cocoa mix, candy bar, trail mix. This menu provides a balanced and warm meal.

    Fire Building

    When building a fire for cooking a simple meal, a bonfire is not necessary. Remember…you are only boiling a little water, not signaling airplanes. The fire you build will be in a designated area. Once your group arrives at your fire pit, gather your tinder, kindling and fuel wood in separate piles.

    The TINDER should consist of small dry twigs, wood shavings, dry needles, dry bark. The key here is dry! No green twigs. One plastic grocery bag of tinder per cooking group is recommended.
    The KINDLING should consist of small DRY sticks about the size of a pencil up to a standard ruler. These must be dry! One plastic grocery bag of kindling per cooking group is recommended.

    The FUEL WOOD should be dry and no larger than a soda can or Pringles chip container. Your group will need about 10-12 pieces of fuel wood.

    Having fuel for the fire (wood) is just one of three components needed for a fire to burn properly. Your group will also need an initial source of heat to bring the fuel to ignition. Your teachers will discuss who brings the matches to start the fire. The last component for your fire is oxygen for the burning process.

    To start your fire, place a couple handfuls of tinder loosely piled in the center of your fire pit. With your back to the wind and match protected by the cup of your hand, ignite the tinder with the match. Slowly add more tinder. You may need to blow softly at the base of the fire. Once the tinder has fully started to burn, slowly add some smaller pieces of kindling. Keep kindling close together but allow space for air flow. Gradually increase the size of the kindling you add to the fire. When you have a good fire going, add the fuel wood one piece at a time in a teepee or criss-cross pattern taking care not to smother the flames.

    You will heat your water by setting the cooking can either on or next to the fire. After your group is finished cooking, staff will instruct you on how we will extinguish the fires.

    Animal Adaptations

    The Animal Adaptation lesson delves into how animals adapt to the winter time conditions of our region. The objective of the lesson is to identify what makes winter winter and search for evidence of resident animals that have adapted to our winter conditions. First, we will define winter and the conditions that create the sometimes harsh environment that necessitates adaptation for survival. During our hike on the day of your visit, we will search for signs of active winter animals.

    It is a myth that nature sleeps in the winter. Not only are many animals quite active, but the lack of leaves and presence of snow helps us see many signs the animals have left behind. These signs tell a story of how wildlife can adapt and survive the winter.

    How Animals Move

    When ground animals move across the snow, they leave behind tracks or foot prints that can help us identify what they are.

    • Tracks can be a single impression called a print.
    • A series of these prints made by one animal is called a trail.
    • An accumulation of many trails form a path.

    Other Animal Signs

    • Scat/Pellets - These droppings can be studied to determine what the animal has been eating.
    • Fur/Feathers - Stuck on branches or found on the ground.
    • Chew Marks - Indicate that an animal was eating at that spot.
    • Tunnels/Holes - Show that some animals move under the snow.
    • Sounds - the still winter air carries animal sounds quite a distance.
    • Food Caches - Shows that some animals stash food for later.
    • Animal Remains - May tell a story of food chains.
    • Homes - Holes, nests, tree cavities are all signs of animal activities.


    The Orienteering lesson objective it to teach students the basic skills of using an orienteering compass and a simple map.

    The folks at the River Bend Nature Center in Faribault, MN have put together an outstanding webpage on compass use. Rather than try to re-invent the wheel, I encourage you to visit their site at this link.

    After learning the compass parts and terminology on-line, use the following lesson along with the compasses we send you to help prepare your students for your visit to the Regional Science Center.

    In-class compass activity