Why I Created This Kit
Crash! Boom! Clap!
If there’s one thing that my kids love to learn about, it’s extreme weather. Maybe they’re fascinated by the power that nature has on the world around us, or perhaps they just really, really like scary stuff. Either way, I’m more than happy to oblige their obsession and immerse them (safely) in the world of extreme weather. Hopefully, you and your youngster will enjoy learning more about nature’s electrifying weather forces, too. Feel free to leave your umbrella at home.
General Information for Parents
Is it me, or is the weather is getting wackier and wackier? In the past few years alone, extreme weather has reared its wild head with an East African drought in 2011, Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, and Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. Extreme weather patterns are changing the way people and animals live their lives and interact with nature.
One form of extreme weather is a tornado. A tornado is a rotating funnel of air that is usually formed during very strong thunderstorms. When a tornado comes in contact with the ground, its strong wind speeds could pick up and destroy cars, houses, and buildings.
Another type of extreme weather is a hurricane, also known as a typhoon or cyclone, depending on where you live. Hurricanes/typhoons/cyclones are storms that form over the ocean and have strong winds and heavy rains. Two of the most damaging US hurricanes in recent years were Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy.
A tsunami is one of the most deadly forms of extreme weather, which brings waves of over 100 feet with speeds up to 500 miles per hour. Tsunamis are caused by large-scale disruptions in the ocean and usually occur after an earthquake or underwater volcano eruption. They bring about massive beach erosion and could crush structures along coastlines.
As daunting as these disasters sound, we can be proactive in protecting ourselves from weather-related danger and/or helping others in need. Scientists and storm chasers study weather patterns using various forms of technology to warn people if a storm is approaching. What’s more, the United States Government has a page of amazing resources for extreme weather preparedness, including an opportunity to get disaster updates sent to you via email.
To help your child feel more at ease with weather events, which could be frightening, reassure him/her that these bouts of extreme weather are not common. Even though examples of extreme weather appear more prevalent than ever before, they are named “extreme” because they go against the norm. The likelihood of encountering a devastating extreme weather event is low. That said, knowledge is power and learning about types of extreme weather could lessen some of the fear associated with them.
General Information for Children
Isn’t weather fascinating? From a sudden flash of lightning to the hypnotizing sound of rain pounding down, weather is nature’s way of reminding you that it’s always there. As for extreme weather, well, that may be nature really trying to get your attention! But just what is extreme weather? Extreme weather is any type of weather event that is significantly different from what we usually expect. For example, we have probably already experienced wind and rain where we live, but an extreme form of wind and rain would be seeing a tornado for the first time in our area. It is important to identify different types of extreme weather, understand the damage they could cause, and learn how scientists are using technology to predict weather patterns to keep us safe. How many different types of extreme weather events could you name? Many people immediately think of a tornado and a hurricane, but have you ever heard of a firestorm or a flash flood?
Remember that extreme weather is a mega-version of what we are normally used to. Here is a list of different types of extreme weather. Write the “normal weather” version next to each form of extreme weather noted below. The first one has been done for you.
Ok, ok. Enough facts. I know what you want: jokes! Well, today is your lucky day. I happen to have some high quality, side splitting weather jokes just for you:
What does a cloud wear under his raincoat?
What did the lightning bolt say to the other lightning bolt?
Whatever happened to the cow that was lifted into the air by the tornado?
Why did the woman go outdoors with her purse open?
Because she expected some change in the weather.
What’s the difference between weather and climate?
You can’t weather a tree, but you can climate.
What happens when it rains cats and dogs?
You have to be careful not to step in a poodle.
What did the hurricane say to the other hurricane?
I have my eye on you.
Fiction Picture Books
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett
This book has been a staple in my class library for years! Kids love hearing the story about the town of Chewandswallow, where citizens get their food from clouds as opposed to a supermarket. When extreme weather threatens to destroy the town, the people of Chewandswallow have to come up with a plan to survive. Hands down, my students’ favorite part is when a large pancake lands on the school, closing it indefinitely! After reading the book, you could compare it to the movie version of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which differs greatly from the book. In the film, an inventor named Flint Lockwood develops a device that transforms water into food. Soon, Flint uses the device to help supply food to the residents in his town. As time goes on, people become greedier and greedier with food requests, leading to a not so savory malfunction that threatens to destroy the world! If you’re interested, there’s also a very funny Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, which continues the extreme food saga.
Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco
Thunderstorms can be scary. Patricia Polacco shares a story of how her loving Babushka helped her overcome her fear of thunderstorms by baking a Thunder Cake (recipe included). In typical Polacco fashion, the illustrations accompany the text beautifully and allow readers to be immersed in the sights of her childhood.
The Legend of Lightning and Thunder by Paul Ikuutaq Rumbolt
How did lightning and thunder come to be? This traditional Inuit legend provides its own answer through a tale of two siblings. The siblings, constantly hungry and lonely, steal items from a village and create instruments to distract themselves. As they play the instruments, noises abound and sparks develop in the sky, which soon attracts the locals. Afraid of being accused of stealing, the siblings retreat to the sky where they remain to this day as thunder and lightning.
Informational Picture Books
Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
This Caldecott award-winning biography is simply a gem. Snowflake Bentley tells the story of Wilson Bentley, who, as a boy, was mesmerized by snowflakes and ice crystals. Even though people around Mr. Bentley did not always understand his passion, Mr. Bentley devoted his entire life to studying snowflakes and made the amazing discovery that no two snowflakes are alike. Reading Snowflake Bentley will strengthen your child’s appreciation of snow and introduce him/her to someone who studied weather as a career!
Basher Basics: Weather: Whipping Up a Storm! by Simon Basher
When I first came across the Basher Basic series a few years ago, my heart did a somersault because they were just that cool. I knew they would become a favorite among children. Basher Books have a way of imparting scientific knowledge to youngsters in engaging and kid-centric ways. As seen in this volume about weather, Basher Books use anime-like illustrations to appeal to youth and first-person descriptions to draw the reader into the world of science (i.e. Sun: I’m simply bursting with energy – visible light, radio and infrared waves, ultraviolet waves, x-rays, gamma rays – you name it.”).
Extreme Weather by Michael Mogil
My oldest son loves this book so much that he sleeps with it under his pillow! Each book spread focuses on a different type of extreme weather, from blizzards to monsoons. Filled with fascinating facts and detailed illustrations, this book is a great resource for 8-year-olds looking to learn more about violent storms. If you are looking for similar books for 6-7-year-olds, check out these titles: National Geographic Readers: Storms by Miriam Goin; DK Readers L2: Twisters! by Kate Hayden; DK Readers L4: Earthquakes and Other Natural Disasters by Harriet Griffey; Time for Kids: Storms! by Editors for TIME for Kids and Leslie Dickstein.
Twister on Tuesday (Magic Tree House Series #23) by Mary Pope Osborne
The 2nd and 3rd graders in my school devour the Magic Tree House books, which depict the time traveling adventures of siblings Jack and Annie. In Twister on Tuesday, Jack and Annie are sent back to the late 1800s, where they have to save students in a one-room schoolhouse from an impending tornado! If your child enjoys this title and wants to read more about tornadoes, check out its nonfiction companion, Twisters and Other Terrible Storms. The Magic Tree House Books are also appropriate as read alouds for 6-7-year-olds.
Judy Moody and Stink: The Big Bad Blackout by Megan McDonald
Popular book characters, Judy Moody and her brother, Stink, are downright scared, thanks to Hurricane Elmer. The strong winds and down pouring rain are so powerful that they cause a blackout and even a canceled school day. No electricity = (gasp!) no technology! What are kids trapped inside to do? Cue Grandma for some good ol’fashioned fun. This is a great beginning chapter book or read-aloud for 6-7-year-olds.
Disaster Strikes #1: Earthquake Shock by Marlane Kennedy
California is a state known for its earthquakes. In this chapter book for 7-8-year-olds, friends Joey, Fiona, Kevin, and Dylan experience a California earthquake that forces them to stay calm and think quickly. Earthquake Shock is the first book in a series that centers on natural disasters, designed to appeal to readers who love action-packed stories.
The Lightning Catcher by Anne Cameron
My son just discovered The Lightning Catcher series and whizzed through the first book. When I asked him what he loved about it, he commented on the humor and elements of fantasy. The basic premise is this: Angus, an 11-year-old, boy, attends a special school called the Perilous Exploratorium for Weather and Vicious Storms. His mission: To save his parents (who are Lightning Catchers) and protect the world from extreme weather. Best suited for proficient readers, 8-years-old and up.
Kid Weather by Just in Weather (for iOS and Android)
Fun fact: a 6-year-old boy and his meteorologist dad designed Kid Weather, so you know that this app is perfect for young learners! Children could research local weather forecasts, plot weather on a graph, and learn interesting weather facts. I like this app because it can be differentiated for varying levels of expertise: beginners could engage in an activity that connects weather forecasts and outfits while more experienced learners could try their hand at extreme weather trivia and safety tips. My 8-year-old son loves to customize his own avatar, which personalizes the experience for him.
Extreme Weather by KIDS DISCOVER (for iOS)
Need an app on extreme weather? How about this one from Discovery Kids called…Extreme Weather? Not only does this app give facts about various forms of extreme weather like tornadoes and monsoons, it also explains the why behind these natural events. My favorite part of this app is the entertaining animation that brings everything to life (be sure to watch the one on lightning). This app is best suited for children aged 7+.
Storm Evader by University of Oklahoma (for iOS)
This free app, developed by students at the University of Oklahoma, uses gaming to teach children about the connection between reading weather radars and navigating an airplane. Ultimately, the app places users in the pilot’s seat, allowing them to use technology to safely route planes through stormy weather. Users could choose to play the app through “career play” or “free play”. In career play, users first research weather forecasts to decide on the safest route for their plane to fly. During free play, users fly planes during actual recorded severe weather events like tornados and try to travel safely to their destination. Best for children 8-years-old and older.
To encourage your child to become an active viewer, ask some of these questions before or after watching the videos/movies/shows listed below:
What do you already know about extreme weather?
Based on the title, what do you think the video/movie/show will be about?
What type of weather fascinates you the most? Why do you find it interesting?
What was the video/movie/show about?
What new weather information did you learn from the video/movie/show?
Would you recommend this video/movie/show to a friend? Why or why not?
Discovery Kids (Online Videos)
I’m nominating Discovery Kids for teacher of the year. Or a gold medal in motivating children. Or something. They know exactly how to get kids interested in science! Discovery Kids has a library of extreme weather videos that appeal to the generation of visual learners. Children could witness a devastating hurricane and its aftermath, a house that gets caught in a snow slide, or a relentless tornado. These short videos are only accompanied by music, allowing the visuals to speak for themselves. If your child prefers narration, check out Classic Discovery’s video clips on the wonders of weather. They cover various extreme weather topics, including hail, lightning development, and avalanches.
Ice Age (Movie)
The Ice Age movie franchise has spawned countless sequels. Why not watch the first movie that started it all, which happens to be filled with different examples of extreme weather (melting ice caps, avalanches, erupting volcanoes)? The story follows different animals living during the Ice Age who, thanks to extreme weather events, have to quickly learn how to survive their changing natural world.
Frozen Planet (TV Series)
If you’re looking to balance out the fantasized animation of the Ice Age movie with a more current view of what’s happening at the North and South Poles, be sure to check out Frozen Planet. This Emmy Award-winning documentary series explores extreme weather patterns and their effects on animal habitats in the Arctic and Antarctic. This series is best suited for children 7+.
I’ll Take a Small Tornado, Please
Kids love this activity, which serves as the perfect follow up to Discovery Kids’ relentless tornado video. I mean, who wouldn't want their own personal tornado (minus the destruction, of course)? Here's what you'll need:
canning jar with lid
clear liquid soap
- Fill the jar with about three-quarters of water.
- Add a teaspoon of the liquid soap into the jar.
- Next, put a teaspoon of vinegar into the jar.
- Include some glitter, to serve as "debris".
- Tighten the lid and shake the jar to mix up the ingredients.
- Swirl the jar in a circular motion to form a small tornado.
There’s Lightning…in My Mouth!
Lightning could be a very scary weather element, one that I wouldn't encourage you to study up close in the wild. You could, however, experience lightning in your very own mouth! Yup. That's right. All you'll need are wintergreen or peppermint lifesavers, a mirror, and a dark room.
- Go to a really dark room and stand in front of the mirror.
- Place a wintergreen or peppermint lifesaver in your mouth.
- Keep your mouth open and break the lifesaver up with your teeth.
- Look for sparks. You should see bluish flashes of light.
Explain to your child that when the lifesaver breaks apart, the sugars inside the candy break as well. The sugars release little electrical charges in the air, which attract the oppositely charged nitrogen in the air. When the two meet, they react in a tiny spark that you can see. Instant mouth lightning! This activity is an entertaining way to extend The Legend of Lightning and Thunder by Paul Ikuutaq Rumbolt.
Suggested Family Experiences
Wild Weather Writing
Channel your child's love of extreme weather into beautiful, flowing words. Have your child pick his/her favorite extreme weather from Extreme Weather by Michael Mogil (or the respective titles noted for 6-7-year-olds) and list words to describe that element. To make the learning more memorable, ask him/her to focus on alliterative words. Alliteration is a style of writing where the writer (or poet) uses a series of words that begin with the same sound. It could be a full sentence or a phrase. The twists and turns of the language are akin to a tornado turning in your mouth! Try this one on for size:
I encourage you to write a wild weather poem with your child. To help him/her hear the alliteration, ask your child to read the poem out loud. You may even decide to record the reading to share with others.
Soda Bottle Volcano
Volcanoes have a riveting effect on my boys, particularly the cool stuff that comes out of them (I’m talking about you, lava!). As such, we simulated an erupting volcano using a bottle of diet Coke or Pepsi, a pack of Mentos, and a piece of paper.
Basically, the soda’s water molecules join together to form a tight web around each carbon dioxide bubble. Once the Mentos are dropped into the soda and begin to dissolve, the mint’s gelatin and gum arabic split the surface tension. Carbon dioxide bubbles then form on the surface of the mints. When all of the built up gas is released, it pushes the soda up and out in a remarkable eruption. Be sure to conduct this experiment outdoors, as it gets very messy very quickly. You may also want to connect this activity to the movie Ice Age, which provides children with a visual of an erupting volcano.
Place the bottle of diet soda on a flat surface and open it carefully.
Make a cone funnel out of paper and place it at the bottle opening.
Using the cone funnel, drop the entire pack of Mentos into the bottle at the same time.
Jump back and watch the eruption take over!
Connections to Other Subjects
An interdisciplinary approach to learning allows children to make connections between various subjects in order to increase learning and meaning making. Extreme weather could easily be integrated into other subjects such as:
Social studies (locations prone to extreme weather disasters)
Performing arts (modern dance interpretations of weather)
Music (thunderstorms in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, the fourth movement)
Researchers state that interdisciplinary learning helps children study a topic deeply and understand the links between subjects.
About Sheila F.
Sheila is a Jersey girl (or should we say "mom"), with a passion for teaching and literacy. She is Jersey bred, currently living in Montclair. Sheila has 16+ years working as a teacher and reading specialist and recently completed her dissertation on children's literature and technology. We "met" Sheila through her blog, teachingliteracy.tumblr.com.