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.
- 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.
- Cardboard – we used a cereal box
- A shallow dish
- Flour – ours was expired anyway!
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.
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!
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.
It’s amazing how much difference the snowshoes make! Your animal should not sink into the snow much at all.
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.”
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?
- Try making some Hot Ice – this is an impressive science experiment! Make “ice” that crystallizes instantly.
- Don’t Melt the Ice Science – kids will invent a container that will keep ice from melting for the longest possible time.
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.
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.
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.
Heather Morgan Feb 11, 2013
Oh, I live in Alabama, so we rarely have actual snow to study either.
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!
Linda Jan 2, 2020
Your a Texas kids would really enjoy Insta Sow from Steve Spangler Science. It is made of polymers, so it doesn't melt when warm. It's texture is just like snow, and the kids can build snowmen and snow castles. I bought 2 envelopes of the dry substance (add cold water) and it was enough for my 2 Florida granddaughters and a friend to play with. When finished, you can store it in a plastic tub to play later. To dry it out for longer storage, spread it out in a few large cookie sheets until all liquid has evaporated. It will return to the dry powdery granule state. The polymer is like the absorbent substance be in disposable diapers. It will reconstitute and swell repeatedly. Caution, don't use it in your yard for decorative snow! It will dry and dizappear, but every time it rains, the snow will come back!
Linda Jan 2, 2020
Sorry, a typo. It is called Insta Snow. More typos, such as the unneeded word "be"
I don't know how that happened. I was unable to scroll back through to check for errors before posting.
Pam Jan 4, 2021
Try putting the flour in a larger pan - say 9 x 13 - so you have room to do both experiments side-by-side. That really demonstrates the difference big paws make! Or, if your flour supply is meager, take pictures with digital camera so the comparison is more accurate, not just from memory.
Kimberly C. Alix Feb 23, 2021
That's a great idea! Our little ones are doing a dino unit. I'm going to try it with dino's just for fun!
SueS Jan 9, 2023
Brilliant demo! Thank you for sharing :)
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