This fun simple science experiment that is perfect for winter time! This experiment demonstrates how snowshoes keep people from sinking into the snow, and why animals that live in snowy regions have large paws.

The other day, we were reading about lynxes in our science book – Exploring Creation with Zoology 3:  Land Animals of the Sixth Day from Apologia.  We were learning that the Canada lynx, which lives in the colder parts of North America, has large furry paws that make it easier to walk on the snow.

Well, we live in North Texas.  Walking on the snow is a foreign concept to us! IF we get snow (we’re much more likely to get sleet or freezing rain), it might be an inch or so. People here don’t own snow shovels, let alone snowshoes!

I came up with this activity to demonstrate how snowshoes work and why the lynx would need wide paws.  It was totally spur-of-the-moment, and thankfully, it actually worked! We’ll be substituting flour for snow in this experiment, and I think you’ll find that it’s an effective science experiment for kids.

How Do Snowshoes Work Winter Science Experiment

Materials Needed:

  • A plastic toy animal – any type of animal will work! If you have a big cat, that’s great, but any animal with four legs will be just fine.
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Cardboard – we used a cereal box
  • A shallow dish
  • Flour – ours was expired anyway!

How Snowshoes Work

Step 1: Fill a shallow dish with an inch or two of flour. Pour the flour in, but be careful not to pack it down. Then, place your animal in the “snow” (flour) to see how deep his footprints will be. Don’t push the animal down. Just set it in the snow.

Snowshoe Science Experiment

Hmm, those footprints are pretty deep.

Now try pushing the animal into the snow. It will be very easy to push his feet way into the snow!

How Snowshoes Work

Step 2: Now it’s time to make your plastic animal some snowshoes. Cut out a cardboard circle to go under each paw. Make them quite a bit larger than the animal’s paws. Attach each “snowshoe” to a paw with a loop of clear tape.

Step 3: Then it’s time to see what effect the snowshoes have on how much the animal sinks down into the snow. Use a spoon to stir the flour and fluff it back up the way it was at the beginning. Then place your animal in the flour again, with his snowshoes on this time.

How Do Snowshoes Work Science Experiment

It’s amazing how much difference the snowshoes make! Your animal should not sink into the snow much at all.

How Snowshoes Work Science Experiment

It’s very interesting to try pushing down on the toy animal with his snowshoes on. Even if you push, you can’t really get him to sink down very far. There is obvious resistance when you try to push him into the “snow.”

How Snowshoes Work Science Experiment

Why does this snowshoe science experiment work?

If you’ve ever tried to walk through deep powdery snow, you know that it requires a LOT of energy to keep lifting your feet out of the snow! If the snow is deep enough, it can be dangerous. Snowshoes keep you from sinking into the snow with each step by spreading your body weight out across a larger surface area. With the weight distributed across a larger area, the snow is able to hold you up. Your body puts less mass per square inch on the snow. You’re still the same mass, of course, but it’s spread out over more square inches.

Animals such as the Canada Lynx benefit from wide paws that distribute their weight over the snow just like man-made snowshoes do!

This article was originally posted in August 2012, and updated and expanded in December 2019.

Need more science experiment ideas?

Snowshoe Science Experiment

5 Comments

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  1. Ticia Aug 13, 2012

    Isn't it nice when those spur of the moment experiments work? We live in central Texas so my kids really have no idea about snow.

    Reply
    1. Ann @ My Nearest and Dearest Feb 5, 2013

      What a great activity and lesson. I think we'll be doing this tomorrow. We live in eastern Canada and get lots of snow (contrary to popular belief, not all of Canada is that way!). My husband and I snowshoe in the woods around our home and we just got our son, who is 32 months, his first pair. Surprisingly he was able to walk with them easily.

      Reply
      1. Heather Morgan Feb 11, 2013

        Great activity! I am an elementary education major working on a polar mammal science unit for a hypothetical second grade class. I was trying to find some kind of hands-on activity to demonstrate the distribution of weight as it relates to walking in the snow and polar mammal adaptations. I had not even thought of using flour. Perfect. Genius. Thank you.

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        1. Heather Morgan Feb 11, 2013

          Oh, I live in Alabama, so we rarely have actual snow to study either.

          Reply
          1. Cathy Dec 4, 2019

            There are jars of artificial snow that you can buy from Amazon. Last year when homeschooling my grandsons I used it, to do one science experiment, This would have been a terrific second, step 2 sciene lesson option. The artificial snow comes in a small jar, but a little goes a long way!

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