There are patterns everywhere in nature and this is a great time of year to look for them. When there isn’t enough snow to play in, but there’s still enough slippery stuff on woodsy trails, sometimes it is nice to find an outdoor activity you can do right outside your door or in your schoolyard.

That’s true anytime of year, really, but I find this time of year particularly challenging. My girls were recently studying patterns in their class as a part of an art project where they made quilt squares. They discussed how patterns can be found in letters and numbers and a quick brainstorm about other patterns in the classroom led to great ideas like those on clothing or on the soles of your shoes.

But, I wanted to take patterns outside. We started with snowflakes, as they are fascinating examples of innumerable patterns. As anyone who has ever cut out a paper snowflake knows, they are full of neat symmetries.

I brought into my daughters’ classroom one of my favorite snow books, “The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter’s Wonder.” It is full of crisp, close-up pictures of different types of snowflakes – from the typical star shape to tiny cylindrical crystals found only in the coldest temperatures.

My plan was then to talk about animal tracks in the snow, but most of the recent snow had melted, so I opted for a second brainstorm about where else we might see patterns outside in hopes that it would direct our lesson. The ideas went far beyond what I had thought of – one student said bark; another said pine cones. The ideas kept flowing as we walked outside in silence looking around us for patterns – polka dot clouds, cracks in the ice, veins of fallen leaves. We were developing an impressive list.

For our activity, I asked the students if they thought they could form their own human patterns. We worked together to form a spiral, stripes, and a circle alternating boys with girls. Then, I asked them to remember the snowflakes they’d seen and divided them up into groups of six to form their own flakes.

They were all in snow clothes, so lying on the ground was not an impediment. There was mitten holding with arms stretched wide and hands over head; there were feet in the air forming crystalline branches; there were so many different postures standing, lying and sitting.

I was eager to keep going with their creative ideas. Back in the classroom, I asked them to create their own nature pattern on a piece of paper. With no prompting, one student asked for scissors and tape. Expecting her to cut out a snowflake, I was surprised instead to see her roll the paper into a tube and cut a few slits in it. When she unrolled it, she rubbed her pencils over the newly formed bumps in the paper to make a wave-like pattern.

The students kept their projects secret until we were ready for our indoor “nature walk” where they would share their pattern creations. The variety was astonishing and reminded me of the importance of an open mind and a ready imagination when looking at nature.

So, when you are feeling stymied by the squishy, lumpy ground at this time of year, keep it simple. With only a few steps out your door, you may be surprised by how much vibrancy you can find in the otherwise bleak weeks of early spring.