Winter in New England may be long, dark and cold, but if you look closely you can spot beautiful color hidden around the forest. For this activity, kids will explore and identify different colors found in nature in the winter. This was an impromptu scavenger hunt for my son and I that was prompted from a discovery. Later in the post, I included directions and ideas for ways to make this a more formal activity for multi-aged kids.
Finding Hidden Gems of Color in the Winter Landscape
Some of you may be familiar with the feeling of longing for spring and summer when the world can once again be filled with vivid color. I feel it. As a gardener who lives for the first blooms of the Ox Eyed daisy and the intensity of color found in bouquet of freshly cut zinnia flowers, winter can feel stark in comparison.
This time of year I see shades of beige in the form of leafless trees and snow that has become dingy from sand and salt. Thankfully, evergreens provide welcoming green hues. I’m always reminded, in winter, that I need to plant more evergreens when the growing season returns.
Color Envy in Winter
Once March hits these feelings often intensity as our southern neighbors begin to share beautiful images of spring. Glorious yellow daffodils and stunning tulips in an array of pinks and purples. I want to hug and breathe in the scents of spring every time I see them. Unfortunately, for me up here in zone 5 with a last frost date of the end of May/Early June, I’m going to have to wait a little longer for the colors of spring to arrive.
Then it happened, I was outside staring at the dirty once bright white snow and I spotted the most beautiful shade of bright green. One of our recent wind storms must have broken the branch holding the lichen and sent this little green gem falling to the ground.
Seeing that happy shade contrasted with the snow made me smile and beam with excitement. If there was one little gem sitting right here on the ground, what other colors could I find hidden around the forest? With that thought, my toddler and I began our winter color scavenger hunt.
- Magnifying glass
- Pencil and paper
- Winter Color Scavenger Hunt worksheet (Free PDF download at the end of the post)
- Colored Pencils
- Basket to collect samples
Going on a Winter Color Scavenger Hunt with Kids
- Decide if this will be a formal or informal activity.
- If formal, have kids bring along supplies to record what they find. They will need either the printed off worksheets or plain paper and colored pencils.
- Kids can collect samples of different colors.
- Colored sketches of samples can be drawn during or after the activity.
- A camera can be used to take pictures of different color samples.
- If informal, no paper or pencils are necessary since observations will be discussed out loud.
- Elementary and middle school aged kids typically enjoy using magnifying glasses, but they are not 100% necessary.
How Many Colors Can You Find?
On our scavenger hunt we discovered a whole array of colors. The competitor in me drove me to want to find as many different tones as we could. Some were obvious to find due to their abundance, shades of brown, tan, and orange dominate the scene. Upon closer inspection we discovered bright reds, purples, yellow, grey blue, white grey, and black. We even spotted a bright yellow nut inside of an acorn left on the ground by squirrel.
Hidden Gems of Winter
In summer it seems as if the outdoors are exploding with color. In winter, one has to be intentional when looking, but that can make it that much more exciting once you find something. Once we started looking, vibrant colors almost magically appeared against the darker backdrop. Bright colors stood out as happy pops of color just waiting to be discovered.
During our winter color scavenger hunt, we discovered a bright almost fluorescent green lichen growing on the rocks that make up a stone wall. The bright pop of green was so different compared to the darker shades of the rocks that it just about jumped off of the rocks and shouted look at me!
Funny thing is, I’ve looked at that rock wall for many, many, years. This rock wall is found on my parents property yet, this is the first time I have noticed these fluorescent lime green spots. Are they this bright every winter? Or did they just grow this year? Either way, it shows you that when you are intentional about seeking something out, you often find it among ordinary places.
Making Inferences Based on Color Differences
While walking around we found one type of plant that had a branch of leaves made up of deep dark shades of purple, red, and brown. Then another branch with leaves containing warmer brighter colors like golden orange, and peach. Why did one type of plant have branches with two very different colors?
My little one is too young to understand, but with an elementary aged or middle school child this plant could spark a whole discussion about what caused that to happen. Kids can make inferences about why the leaves are different colors. Together you can talk about how light conditions affect the growth of plants. Both of these leaves were from the same plant, yet they were so different.
I infer that they were different because of the levels of light the leaves received during the growing season. Leaves made up of darker colors were growing in the shade while the lighter colored leaves grew in the sun. Is my inference correct? I’m not sure. But that’s the fun part about Science. Making inferences is all about trying to make sense of what you are seeing based on your prior knowledge.
Observe One Tree
Even if you don’t have a whole forest to explore, you go on a winter color scavenger hunt using one tree. This tree could be planted alone surrounded by lawn or found in the small strip along the roadside or in a parking lot. At first glance, a tree may look monotone. Upon further inspection of the truck or branches, I bet you will be surprised by how much variety in color you will find.
The two pictures above show the difference between two species of trees. My little one and I spotted a variety of colors and different tones in each. Surprising, both had a unique pop of color. The Swamp maple had a rusty orange mark while the White Birch had flashes of pink peeking through the banding on the bark. I wonder if the colors on the trees will change with the changes of seasons? That would be a fun activity for another day!
Different Tones of One Color
As a fun extension, I took some nature samples in the same color family and laid them on the ground. I then sorted them with my child in order from lightest to darkest. My little one is only three, but he was able to point to each sample and say what color was being shown. Even if he doesn’t completely understand the concept of tone, I think that identifying differences in a singular color is an important part of learning color theory. This is one of the reasons why I love going out and exploring nature because variations in tone happen organically.
To continue exploring outside with kids in the winter check out this winter scavenger hunt from the Science Women. Kids of all ages will enjoy hunting for different plants and animals in the winter landscape