Groundhog Day is February 2.
An old name for February 2nd is “Candlemas.” An Old Scots saying holds that, “If Candlemas is bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year.” Europeans had various animals (bears, badgers, hedgehogs…) looking out of their dens or burrows on Candlemas to see whether winter had ended. If the day was bright, they would of course see their shadows. If it was too gloomy for the creatures to see their shadows, then winter was on its way out. Somehow we have changed this from being about clear or gloomy weather to being all about the animal. In the United States, the weather predicting animal is always the groundhog. There is even an official weather-predicting groundhog in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
There are other weather superstitions rhymes: “Red sky at morning, sailors take warning. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.” And “Ring around the moon, rain come soon.” Challenge students to make up their own.
The groundhog is also known as a woodchuck, so he has his own rhyme: “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”
For some classroom fun, check out these links and ideas:
- Groundhog.org’s Teacher’s Corner has games, printables, and a groundhog cookie recipe.
- Check out The Toymaker’s crafts for Groundhog Day.
- Enchanted Learning has instructions for the popular paper cup groundhog puppet craft.
- Groundhog Day word list is a fun starting point for writing assignments.
- Activity Village has groundhog day printables.
- Make a groundhog headband by gluing a brown paper circle to a strip of brown paper. Add two smaller circles for ears, draw a face, and staple the paper strip into a ring.
- Add a Groundhog Puppet to your discussions of the day, and see whether he sees his shadow or not.
- There are several picture books for this holiday. Geoffrey Groundhog Predicts the Weather examines the price of celebrity as well as the basic idea of Groundhog Day.
- Groundhog Day! by Gail Gibbons delves into the life and times of the groundhog as well as the history of Groundhog Day.
- Groundhog Weather School looks at the factors involved in predicting the weather.
- Include some of the rhymes above or “The Groundhog Song” linked below in your studies of poetry.
- Shadows are a natural connection for Groundhog Day. Here’s a simple worksheet for young kids, inviting them to match objects to their shadows.
- Crayola has a fun idea for young kids: work in pairs, and have one child make shadow shapes while the other traces them.
- The Exploratorium’s Colored Shadows experience is a fun one.
- Weather is another obvious connection. Many classrooms start weather charting on Groundhog Day and check to see whether there is another 6 weeks of winter or not. Compare results with a school in another area.
- Since records have been kept in Punxsutawney, there have been 15 gloomy days, 96 shadow sightings, and 9 years when no record was kept. Calculate percentages based on this data. Also, check out the article linked above to see how the percentages have changed in recent years.
- Official estimates of Punxsutawney Phil’s accuracy say he is right only about 39% of the time. If you don’t care to keep a weather chart for six weeks, try keeping one for two or three weeks and comparing your local weather forecaster’s accuracy level with that of the groundhog. Some writers suggest that Phil’s results are surprisingly bad, reasoning that he has a 50% chance of being correct. Others argue that “6 weeks of winter” and “not 6 weeks of winter” are not the only choices; there could be three more weeks of winter weather, or there could be a week of warmer weather followed by six weeks of colder weather, or any number of other things. Combine math and critical thinking lessons in a debate on the subject.
- From the Wolf Collection of American folksongs comes the Groundhog Song. You can listen to it at the website, or print out the words for a poetry study. The rhythmic structure is unusual. Give your class rhythm instruments to play along with and mark all the strong beats, including the final “Groundhog!” at the end of each verse.