When we think about a weather theme, we automatically assume we're talking science: meteorology, climatology, and geology but, of course, weather affects sociology and has certainly had an effect on history. Just think about how you feel after a soggy week of rain and there's no doubt that weather has an effect on our psychology. So, we're into the social sciences. Music? Begin with "Singing in the Rain" and go on to other weather connected songs. Art? Lots of famous paintings show storms and clouds. Start making a list of all the weather connected words and phrases and you've already stepped into the language arts and you haven't even opened a book.Instead of our usual picture book introduction to a theme, let's begin this one with poetry. We know we're jumping the season, but let's start with some poems about snow. We like Jack Prelutsky's It's Snowing! It's Snowing Illustrated by Jeanne Titherington (Morrow, 1984 ISBN 0688015131. Order Info.) because the poems are short, interesting, easy to read, and present a wide variety of moods and reactions to snow. Read one aloud that expresses your own feelings about snow and let the kids choose others. Make sure you give even able readers time to practice their selection before reading aloud to others. Try buddy reading or choral reading a few.
Don't turn off the poetry spigot yet. Put out some poetry anthologies that have sections on the weather such as Beatrice de Regniers' Sing a Song of Popcorn: Every Child's Book of Poems (Scholastic, 1988 ISBN 059043974X. Order Info.), and Jack Prelutsky's Random House Book of Poetry for Children illustrated by Arnold Lobel (Random House, 2000 ISBN 0394850106. Order Info.). Suggest that children make posters of their favorite poems, using art work and/or calligraphy. When the posters are done, take a word walk, examining the posters and looking for good weather words and phrases.
Weather sounds are fun. Make the sounds of a rainstorm in your classroom by having everyone rap their fingers on a wooden desk or chair back, first lightly and then harder and faster as the storm approaches. Get someone to direct the storm describing it's approach, the downpour and then the fading to sprinkles. To get really dramatic, add a few rhythm instruments and make it a thunderstorm.
Eve Merriam wrote a poem entitled "Showers Clearing Later in the Day" in which she used no words but only symbols on a keyboard. The asterisk made the raindrops. The punctuation mark made the slower and more widely spaced sprinkles. Try it.
Okay, time to get down to the science of it all. Set out some rain gauges, a weather vane, anemometer, and a barometer. Discover how they work and what they tell us about the weather. Track a hurricane on a weather map. Make rain using steam and a dish of ice. Set up a cloud watch with someone armed with pastels and sketch paper sitting by the window to draw what he or she sees. Go through books on clouds to identify each type. Find out what causes thunder and lightning.
Read Snowflake Bentley and then look in the book A Drop of Water for the section on snowflakes. Let children use their own methods to express what they saw and learned in those books.
How normal is your weather? Compare statistics of rainfall and temperature for the past weeks, month or year in your area with the norms for the area. Graph your findings.
In his book A Drop of Water, Walter Wick gives directions for a simple experiment children can do to show how raindrops form around particles in the clouds. Let the children read his directions and set up the experiment.
It's time to look back at what the weather has done and can do. Jim Murphy's book Blizzard: The Storm That Changed America (Scholastic, 2000 ISBN 0590673092. Order Info.) is about the blizzard of 1888. It makes fascinating reading either in part or in its entirety. (By the way, we tend to neglect informational literature in the language arts program, yet it's the kind of literature many children like best.) Teaching children how to read and understand the literature that is most necessary in our lives is worth taking the time and effort. For some good tips on how and why, read Exploring Informational Text: from Theory to Practice by Linda Hoyt, Margaret Mooney and Brenda Parkes (Heinemann, 2003 ISBN 0325004722. Order Info.).
That blizzard was surely a disaster but, of course, there were many other times when the weather caused problems. Get the kids to devise some interview questions to use with adults they know about weather extremes they have lived through. You can't just send the kids out to do fruitful interviewing without modeling for them first. Use those interview questions yourself in front of the kids with someone who has had a weather-related experience. Use an overhead projector or computer/screen setup to record your notes on the interview so that the kids can see what you're doing. Afterwards, talk with the children about what went right and what went wrong in the interview. They may want to change or add to the interview questions as a result.
After looking at some prints of weather-related art, give the children a variety of art materials and suggest that they find ways to show that the wind is blowing, that a storm is coming, that it's cold or hot outside.
Then turn to some of the books listed below. Take note of the words and phrases authors use to show some of those same things. Notice what the illustrations do to enhance the mood or plot of the book.
Tresselt, Alvin. Hide and Seek Fog (Bound to Stay Bound, 1999. ISBN 0833547534. Order Info.)
There aren't many picture books that deal with fog but this one does so magnificently. The fog rolls in along the eastern coast. The sailors and lobstermen are less ecstatic than the kids in this poetic and lovely book.
Hesse, Karen. Come On, Rain! Illustrated by Jon J. Muth. (Scholastic, 1999. ISBN 0590331256. Order Info.)
Most picture books that deal with drought and rain are set in the country but this is set in the city. Our narrator, Tessie, is a young African American child living with her mother. Tessie watches the sky for signs of cooling rain while her mother frets over some thirsty plants in their tiny garden. When Tessie spots some clouds in the distance, she starts getting ready. She and a friend don their bathing suits. Others arrive just in time for the cooling rain. It's too much for the mothers watching from the balconies and soon the whole neighborhood, adults and children alike are frolicking in the rain.
Koscielniak, Bruce Geoffrey Groundhog Predicts the Weather. (Houghton, 1998. ISBN 0395883989. Order Info.)
There aren't many books about Groundhog's Day but this is a good one. It's also a bit of a satire about the ridiculous use of media hype in our culture. You may have wondered how the whole thing started. It seems that this groundhog by the name of Geoffrey woke up one February second, didn't see his shadow and walked to the local newspaper to report that spring would come soon. When indeed it did, the media seized on it with the result that by the next year there were so many lights and cameras, Geoffrey couldn't tell whether he saw his shadow or not.
Napoli, Donna Jo. Albert Illustrated y Jim LaMarche. (Silver Whistle, 2001. ISBN 0152015728. Order Info.)
Albert's hand leaves his apartment every day as Albert sticks it out of the window to determine the weather. Each day Albert decides it's too cold, too hot, too something to go outside and so he stays inside and lonely. Then, one day a cardinal quickly builds a nest in Albert's outstretched hand. Eggs are laid and hatched and Albert changes with the birds.
Polacco, Patricia. Thunder Cake (Paper Star, 1997. ISBN 0698115813. Order Info.)
A Russian grandmother helps her young charge overcome the fear of thunder by preparing the title recipe during a storm. While gathering the ingredients, they measure the proximity of the storm because the cake must be in the oven by the time the storm hits.
Seuss, Dr. Bartholomew and the Oobleck (Random, 1970. ISBN 0394800753. Order Info.)
Seuss's zany story tells about a selfish king who's bored with the usual weather. He commands his magicians to create a new substance to fall from the sky. Havoc results.
Spier, Peter. Peter Spier's Rain (Yearling, 1997. ISBN 0440413478. Order Info.)
In this delightful wordless book, two children are playing in the yard on a summer day. Also in the yard are a dog, cat and a woman. A sudden storm sends everyone and everything scurrying. The children put on rain gear and go out to experience the rain. Vignettes on several pages show many aspects of the rain and many different creatures reacting to it.
Grades 1 and up
Martin, Jacqueline Briggs. Snowflake Bentley Illustrated by Mary Azarian. (Houghton, 1998. ISBN 0395861624. Order Info.)
This Caldecott Award winner celebrates the life and dedication of Wilson Bentley, a man so fascinated by snowflakes that he devoted his life to the study and photography of the crystals. Martin tells the tale with obvious delight and admiration. Sidebars add information about snow and snowflakes and Azarian's woodcuts are just the right addition.
Grades 2 and up
Lightning (HarperTrophy, 1999. ISBN 0688167063. Order Info.)
Storms (HarperTrophy, 1992. ISBN 0688117082. Order Info.)
Weather (Harpercollins, 2000. ISBN 068817521X. Order Info.)
Tornadoes (Harpercollins, 1999. ISBN 0688146465. Order Info.)
Hurricanes (Harpercollins, 2003. ISBN 0688162924. Order Info.)
Simon's books are wonderful! The photographs he uses are stunning and would be worthy of your time even if they weren't accompanied by Simon's text. He finds the most amazing facts about each subject and uses comparisons within the child's experience to share his obvious wonder and delight.
Grades K and up
Wick, Walter A Drop of Water: A Book of Science and Wonder. (Scholastic, 1997. ISBN 0590221973. Order Info.)
Stop action photography dominates these pages that are both stunning and amazing. The text is clear and the information conveyed by the combination of text and photographs explores the properties of water in such a way as to interest kids from kindergarten on up. Don't miss this one.
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