Newsflash: a polar vortex is sweeping its way across the mid-East and Northeast, bringing with it high winds, rapid snow fall for thirty minutes (causing whiteouts), and deadly below zero temps. Call me clueless, but I had no idea it was in the forecast until about two hours ago when I overheard someone else talking about the weather at the orthodontist. My sister in Ohio started sending me texts with pics of all the crazy things they were able to do, and it made me start wondering. What can you do with your kids in a polar vortex?
In order to answer my question, I first had to figure out what a polar vortex even is. My sister kept throwing around the term, but I didn’t have any idea what it meant. Other than cold, cold, cold. Turns out that every once in a while, the Arctic weather patterns go awry, and bands of arctic chill escape to blast their way across the Eastern United States. These bands are like the Arctic version of hurricanes, only what’s swirling in a circle is the windy freeze. Hence the word vortex. Only the outer bands of the vortex actually reach the US, so I guess we can consider ourselves lucky!
Polar vortex winds and cold are a deadly combination. Yesterday temps in Ohio dropped to -35°. Wind chill was even colder. Frostbite and hypothermia were and are very real threats! During that time, my mother-in-law texted me to let me know their heater was out. Since they also live in Ohio, you can imagine my concern. So really, with this imminent danger, what can you do with kids during a polar vortex? Maybe nothing but snuggle!
Or maybe we have some great ideas for polar vortex fun you can have, in quick and well-bundled ventures onto the front porch, or even in the garage! Freezing Bubbles, Freezing Balloons, Freezing Hair in Dr. Seuss styles, these are all great fun! You can do many of these things as long as it is below zero, but in a polar vortex they happen so much faster, and it’s pretty cool. You can watch a bubble freeze in real time! And if that’s not enough to get your juices flowing, we’ve got ten fabulous answers to your question “What can you do with your kids in a polar vortex?” and they are all described with links and/or videos below!
Freeze a Few Bubbles while the temps are below zero!
My sister actually did this same experiment inside her garage this time, and it totally worked but protected her bubbles from the excessive wind. It only takes about five minutes or less to freeze a bubble in a polar vortex. This video shown below was actually done outside, when it is quite a bit warmer at 16º F. It takes a lot longer, but it is still so cool! You can find great instructions for how to do this with kids, with variations, here. And you can find great instructions on how to photograph your bubbles here.
Make an Ice Lantern
I love this idea and actually bought cups to do this myself before I knew my friend Shelley had made these gorgeous ice lanterns! I love how their’s turned out. Of course, you can make these in a freezer too, but it would be so cool to make a whole slew of them during a polar vortex or any time it is below freezing outside! You might also like this version.
Freeze your hair – Dr. Seuss Style
To do this project, you will need to do a little bit of research. Look through the Dr. Seuss books you have on hand, and pick a hair style that defies gravity. Get your hair wet and bundle up good. It only takes a few minutes, but you should proceed with caution, wear gloves, and wrap every part up you can. It will take a couple different people to pull this off, as your hair will need to be held in position as it freezes in place. Snap pics quick and get back inside!
Parents: Be very careful, use your best judgement, and do not do this activity if you have any concerns. You are responsible to make the best decision for your kids.
Do Magic Tricks Like Crushing Bottles without Touching Them
Negative pressure can do some pretty amazing things, and severely cold weather is the perfect source to create negative pressure! This fun Bottle Crushing Experiment from Steam-Powered Family is an awesome way for parents to wow their kids, or kids to wow their friends. It looks like magic, but there really is just some basic cold-weather science behind it all.
Make Awesome Frozen Globes of Color to Line your Driveway or Porch
I love how these turn out, and as long as it stays cold you can keep your Ice Marbles for a very long time! They look awesome lining a driveway or deck or porch for a party, and are very festive during the holidays. You can also do this activity any time it is below freezing temps, but in a polar vortex it is crazy fast and your kids can watch it happen! Here’s instructions, or just watch the video.
Make Ice Bowls for Fun Pretend Play in the Snow!
During a polar vortex, it’s really too cold to play in the snow right then, but after it warms up a tad, you can give these frozen ice bowls you made during the vortex, with some spoons and utensils, to your little ones for some awesome outdoor pretend play!
I don’t have a video for making ice bowls, but they look amazing, and you can find the instructions here.
Make Your Own Ice Palace!
I almost wouldn’t believe this works, except that a family actually did this. Using aluminum tins, you can freeze “bricks” of ice super fast during a polar vortex, and build your own igloo! Find the instructions for this awesome project here.
Make Instant Slushies!
My kids actually suggested this after watching a Youtuber make water turn into slushy ice. Why didn’t he add sugar and flavor? That’s what they wanted to know. The idea is to put your flavored sugar water outside for the perfect amount of time, and that will vary depending on the temperature. When it’s still liquid, but right on the verge of becoming ice, you bring it inside and tap the bottle. Instant slushie!
Make Awesome Ice Art!
We found instructions for making a cool wreath and random geometric shapes in this post. I love how the wreath turned out; it’s so pretty. I also love these easy ice sculptures for kids! Another great idea – painting ice with water colors and salt — you can find the directions here. Or try this cool variation of ice sculpture and make dinosaurs!
Make Frozen Gemstones
Make the Coolest Icy Suncatcher Ever!
I love this idea! A thin layer of ice, food coloring, and a bit of string – the directions are all here.
Toss boiling water into the air and watch it vaporize into steam!
This is so cool. Carry a pot of boiling water outside and toss it into the air during a polar vortex. It will literally turn into frozen vapor almost instantly.
“The big cloud is condensate, or water that has quickly condensed into tiny droplets, which is the same reason you can see your breath when it’s cold outside. The smaller streaks are from condensate coming off falling water droplets — not water that has frozen midair.” Source: USA Today
Proceed with caution as you can still get burned if you throw water into the wind!
Make a Corn Maze – Only With Snow!
I love the creativity of this. Of course, it only works if your polar vortex or severely cold weather also came with a lot of snow, which ours did not. But still – if you have a lot of snow – this would be so much fun and it’s a great way to engage dads, since a snow maze is a lot of work. Read all about it in this post.
Make Edible Snow Treats!
Again, you need snow. And you really only need snow, not below freezing temps. But these fun recipes deserve a spotlight because they are a perfect fun treat on a crazy polar vortex kind of day. You can use snow to make ice cream or snow candy! Of course, as my boys like to point out, make sure the snow is clean, and not yellow.
Make Your Own Colorful Icicles
I’ve heard that icicles make awesome unicorn horns! Especially if you follow these directions to make your own colorful icicles in severely cold weather!
Make a Volcano in the Snow
This works with any snow, not just in severe cold! Use the snow to create an erupting volcano in your backyard!!!
Sneak In A Little Science While the Kids Are Out of School
I love this Simple Snow Ice Experiment, and even little kids can get in on the fun! They will be shocked by the results! (Don’t give it away!)
What Can you Do With Your Kids in a Polar Vortex? So Much Awesome Stuff!
I found so many great ideas for polar vortex activities – I can barely stand the fact that it warmed up so fast and everything is melting! I didn’t even get a chance to try half of these projects! If it’s too warm where you live to try these out right now, pin the post so you can find it later and make fun happen.