Snow Fort Ideas To Meet Your Curriculum Standards

Cover image snow fort ideas for your curriculum- two kids sitting inside of a snow fort

Kids love building snow forts. As soon as it snows you will often find the kids outside at recess creating the outlines of the snow house or castle of their dreams. There are so many different ways that snow forts can be built and I’m always amazed at the creativity and ingenuity of the kids when they start to build. There is also a lot of science, planning, collaboration (and sometimes arguing…we’ll call that communication), and problem-solving that goes into building a fort. This makes snow fort building an amazing activity to do with your students and still meet your curriculum standards.

Not only will your students be able to meet your curriculum standards, but they will also receive some of the amazing benefits of being outside. Spending time as a class outside in the winter will help to normalize getting outside in all weather. These activities are all hands-on, full body learning experiences that help students build an understanding of the science and social studies concepts they are learning about. They will also begin to build an understanding of the qualities and characteristics of snow as they mould and shape it.

Some of the benefits of building snow forts with your students are:

  • whole body, kinaesthetic learning
  • a chance to move and release energy
  • hands-on learning
  • collaboration and teamwork
  • communication skills
  • planning skills
  • creative learning
  • a chance to integrate physical activity into their learning
two kids building a snow fort

Before You Start- Snow Fort Safety

Ensuring that everyone is safe and comfortable will ensure that your students have a positive experience and want to get outside more during the winter.

1. Dressing for the Weather

Snow forts can take a long time to build, especially if your students are really into it. To ensure your students stay comfortable, warm and dry it’s important to ensure that everyone comes dressed for the winter weather. Kids who don’t come with ski pants or forget their mittens will get wet and cold rather quickly and not enjoy their time outside.

The basics of dressing for winter weather are:

  • dressing in layers
  • avoiding cotton clothing (it gets wet and stays wet)
  • a shell (wind and waterproof layer) as the outer layer on both top and bottom
  • warm winter boots (warm and waterproof)
  • mittens, toques, scarves etc.- bring extras

Take some time to prepare your students so that they know what dressing for the winter weather looks like. You can find some handy tools for communicating with families in our “Get Outside Tool Kit.”

Some tips for building in the snow and staying warm and dry are:

  • Have ski pants that cover the boots so that you don’t get snow in your boots
  • Tuck mittens into your jacket or have long mittens that go over the sleeve of the jacket to keep out snow
  • Use a neck warmer/buff/scarf to keep snow out of the neck or your jacket. A hood will also help keep snow out
  • Bring extra mittens, toques, etc as they will likely get wet during building
  • Have students bring a change of clothes for inside learning time

2. Check the Snow and Weather Conditions in Advance

As part of ensuring your students safety, be sure to conduct a site assessment of the area you plan on using. Prior to taking your students out to build, ensure that you check the snow and weather conditions in the area that you plan to build in.

Some things to consider are:

  • how deep is the snow? can the kids easily travel through the snow?
  • is the snow covering up any potential hazards?
  • are there icy areas that kids need to be aware of?
  • are there any hazards in the area that need to be mitigated?
  • are there areas with overhanging snow or ice that could fall?
  • what is the temperature and windchill?
  • do we have a warm-up space?

3. Collapsing Forts

An enclosed fort could potentially have risks of collapsing and entrapping students inside. I have never seen this happen, however the concern is very real for some people. Some ways you can prevent this are:

  • discuss the hazard with your students and set guidelines/boundaries for climbing on structures and when the structures can be used
  • build your forts in an area where other students are unable to access them without supervision to prevent unknowing students from causing an accident
  • if your students build an enclosed structure have them destroy it afterwards if necessary

Tools for Building Forts

  • Snow shovels (or buckets): Snow shovels or buckets are great for piling up snow quickly.
  • Snow brick builders: These are plastic snow moulds that make rectangular bricks. They are great for building igloo types structures or walls
  • Sleds: Sleds are great for hauling snow or snow blocks from place to place
  • Snow saws: You can find these with plastic blades. These are great for building igloos
  • Sticks, blankets, or other building materials that you think might be fun
a boy using a shovel to pile snow

Snow Fort Building Ideas:

There is no right or wrong way to build a snow fort. The way you choose to build them with your students is up to you and how you would like to tie it to your curriculum. Here are some ideas to get you started!

1. Building Emergency Shelters:

Materials: Tarps, rope (we usually use paracord), tent pegs

This may not exactly count as a snow fort, but it can be fun. I often do this with my middle-year students as part of a unit on survival skills. There are so many ways these can be tied to your curriculum. You can talk about heat, weather, structures, and even architecture. You can also have students design their shelters in advance so that they have practice with the planning and design stages of creating a structure.

I usually design this as a STEM challenge where the students have 1 tarp, 6 tent pegs, and 1 paracord. Their task is to design an emergency shelter that all of their group members can fit in and that keeps out the wind. You can also teach proper shelter-building techniques if you like.

2. Build a Quinzee

Materials: Shovels and sleds can be helpful but are not necessary

A quinzee is a simple snow shelter made by first piling up snow and then hollowing it out. Check out this post for more information: How to Build a Quinzee Snow Shelter.

Qunizee building is a great way to study the characteristics of snow, structures (in particular solid and shell structures), and heat transfer/insulation. Snow is an excellent insulator and the kids are often amazed at how warm it can be inside their shelters.

3. Igloos

Materials: Shovels, snow saw, sleds

Igloos are traditional Inuit snow homes. They are built from snowblocks and provide fantastic shelter, even in the cold far north. I have never built igloos with students, however I know of several families at our school who have built their own versions at their homes. Building igloos can have some fantastic curricular ties. For example, you can discuss the Inuit background of the igloo or explore different types of structures. More info can be found here: Building an Igloo.

peoples feet sticking out of a domed snow shelter

4. Structure Studies

Materials: Buckets, shovels, sticks

I love using snow structures as a way to build and discuss different types of structures. The 3 main types of structures are shell, frames, and solid structures. Building with snow can be used to explore these structures. For example, solid structures can be built by piling snow, shell structures can be created by creating miniature quinzees, and frame structures can be built by creating a frame of sticks and building up snow walls within. These are just examples and you can cater your building tasks to meet your own curricular needs.

5. Snow Bank Villages

Materials: Open-ended building materials, anything that might help spark creativity

This is a more creative building activity that requires tall snow banks. In this activity students are challenged with creating a snow village in the snow banks. Students can hollow out the snow banks, build structures on the snow banks, or use other natural features, such as trees in area to create their village. This is a great way to talk about what a community needs and features that most towns or villages have. Through this activity, students must also work collaboratively to create their village.

6. Animal Homes

Materials: Stuffed animals

This is a fun activity that I enjoy doing with my younger students. It is a great way to incorporate the needs of animals and how a habitat meets their needs. In this activity, students are given a stuffed animal and tasked with building a home for their animal friend. They can use found materials in the area for creating their habitat. It is amazing how creative students will get in building their animals homes. It also allows students to take on the perspective of other animals and develop empathy for them.

7. Snow Stem Challenges

Materials: Dependent upon your challenge

Building in the snow is a great way for students to think creatively about structures, materials, and building strategies.

Some challenges could be:

  • build the tallest snow block tower (this is great for when the snow is hard packed and turns into blocks easily)
  • build the strongest snow bridge
  • create a tennis ball run on a snow hill (similar to an indoor marble run)

8. Creative Play

Materials: Whatever you feel your students need!

Your snow fort building doesn’t necessarily have to be structured into a learning activity. Simply providing the opportunity for your students to build freely allows them to explore the possibilities of snow, work collaboratively, and be creative. You will be amazed what your students create when just given the time to get outside and “play.” After all, play is learning and outdoor play has so many benefits for our kids!

two kids building a snow fort using moulds

Now Get Outside and Enjoy the Snow!

Snow forts are awesome. They are a great way to integrate your curriculum into outdoor learning and get your students outside. Not only will your students be covering the curriculum, but they will also be experiencing the amazing benefits of outdoor learning. Your students will love the opportunity to be outside, moving freely, and building a connection with nature.

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