Celebrating Groundhog Day With Your Students
Exploring Groundhog Day in your classroom is a fun-filled way to study art, science, and literature.
By Andrea Ferrero
Dating back to the 18th century, Groundhog Day grew out of European weather folklore. Perhaps most well-known for being celebrated in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the holiday stars a prognosticating groundhog named Phil. This February 2nd will mark Punxsutawney Phil’s 126th prediction. Celebrators are anxiously waiting for him to climb out from his burrow. If he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. However, if Phil does not see his shadow, we are all in for an early spring. The whimsical charm of this annual event can inspire a range of classroom activities.
- The average groundhog is 20 inches long and weighs from 12 to 15 lbs. Punxsutawney Phil weighs about 20 lbs. and is 22 inches long.
- Groundhogs are from the rodent family and are also known as woodchucks.
- They have course grayish brown or red fur, short ears, a short tail, and short legs.
- Their compact build makes them quick.
- Groundhogs have exceptionally strong jaws.
- Their diet consists of greens, fruits, vegetables and a small amount of water.
- When alarmed or looking for mates, they whistle.
- They hibernate in the truest sense of the word, going into a deep coma. During this time, their body temperature drops severely, breathing slows, and the heart barely beats.
- Baby groundhogs are born during the spring (Mid-April or May), and by the summer are able to head out on their own. Most groundhogs are born in a litter of 4 to 9 kits or cubs.
After exploring fun facts about groundhogs, I like to give my students the opportunity to create their own Phil. Using brown construction paper, google eyes, and a popsicle stick, we create our own groundhogs. To make his body out of brown construction paper, cut out a large oval (body), two small ovals (front paws or legs), circle (head), and one small circle cut in half to create semi-circles (ears). Next, have your students glue him together, affixing his eyes and then drawing in a nose and mouth. However, no groundhog puppet would be complete without a burrow to climb from, so provide each student with a toilet paper roll for him to pop out of. I like to leave the roll brown, but they could be colored green or decorated with dried grass.
Phil’s famous predication for the weather presents a great way to prime interest in reading and recording temperatures and weather data. My class and I enjoyed analyzing the factors that could affect Phil’s discovery each year (sun position, weather patterns, temperature). We also enjoyed comparing weather reports and predications from past years. All of our research culminated in students creating a prediction for this year and supporting it with evidence from their studies.
As the big day approaches, Punxsutawney is preparing to share Phil’s findings with the world. You can access a webcast of the event and following celebrations on their Groundhog club website.
Engaging lessons that explore Groundhog Day:
Using a preconfigured SMART Board slideshow, the class explores the holiday through facts, poems, and interactive activities.
Students kick off an engaging exploration of Groundhog Day by sharing prior knowledge and listening to a Groundhog Day themed story. Two story options, Ten Grouchy Groundhogs or Gretchen Groundhog, It’s Your Day!, are provided but others could be used in their place. They continue their look at the event by discovering how shadows are produced and particpate in a shadow matching game. The lesson includes working links to all activity sheets. It states that you will need a projector in order to complete the shadow games, but a large flashlight could also work.