Toddlers and preschoolers do most of their learning through play.
And motor skills are a big part of that – so this ice dig activity is perfect for your little person’s fine motor development.
Today, you’ll learn how to create an ice dig activity for your child quickly and easily – and avoid the mistakes I made the first time I tried.
How hard can it be?
Find some stuff that’s kid safe and freezer safe (and won’t dissolve in water) and freeze it all into a block of ice.
Yes, it is. And we’ll talk about how to set up your ice dig the right way in just a second – but first, why would you even want to bother?
Why bother creating an ice dig activity?
That’s a legitimate question. It might seem like a silly, frivolous thing to do at first. And you might wonder…
What’s so wrong with lego that you suddenly need to be stuffing random things in the freezer? What is your child getting out of this ice dig thing – and what age of a child is it right for?
Let’s start with FUN. It’s a fun thing to do and there’s nothing wrong with doing something just because your child enjoys it.
But there are lots more benefits and educational reasons why you should give ice digs a whirl.
Educational benefits of your ice dig
It’s a problem solving activity – because how WILL they get the things back out of that ice?
What might help?
Tools? Which ones? Why are some better than others?
You child’ll be talking to you, their siblings, or just themselves as they try to decide how to get the ice off the things. You’ll love to listen to their ideas and see them processing it all in front of you.
It’s a fine motor activity. Fine motor is all about using the hands and gradually building the control and dexterity to use tools like cutlery, toothbrushes and eventually a pen or pencil.
And they need hand control and to use tools to get that ice chipped away.
Plus, it’ll help them build patience and perseverance. (Well, unless you make the ice too thin.)
And on another note, it’s pretty easy to set up and all the mess is water.
Do you prefer video? Watch below (it’s more or less the same as this post.)
What not to do when you set up your preschool ice activity
So now we know why it’s worth doing, let’s see how you can set up an ice dig the right way – by looking at how I did it the WRONG way.
I made my kids a dinosaur ice dig. Here’s how it went
First I grabbed a bunch of toy dinosaurs and put them in a plastic tub. I went for various sizes and packed them in pretty tight. (This was my first mistake – you’ll see why in a minute.)
Next I filled it up with water and shoved it in the freezer. I didn’t fill it right the way up because I figured it would be easier to get the dinosaurs back out if there was a bit to grab on to. That ice was very thick, though. (Mistake number 2)
After a couple of days in the freezer, I pulled it out and gave it to my kids.
Here it is – and I think we can all agree it looked pretty awesome.
A beautiful lump of prehistoric fun. But this was actually another mistake…
..because it was an impenetrable lump of rock hard ice.
The kids set to work with plastic hammers and whatever else they could find – and I realised I hadn’t considered safety enough either.
Little bits of ice were flying and I worried about them getting hit in the eyes – and also about the items they were using to hit it. Metal butter knives were being wielded at one point.
So I took away the inappropriate tools and no one got hurt – but I realised that the ice needed to thaw to a crunchy, wet state before giving it to the kids next time.
It’s a lot less heart-stopping if they are grinding and scraping at the grainy soft ice instead of hitting glassy-hard ice as hard as they can.
Don’t make the ice too think
Well, unless you’d like this activity to take for-ev-er.
Because after over half an hour, most of the dinosaurs were still trapped in the ice.
The kids bashed and scraped but the dinos stayed put. They chatted about how to make it easier and one suggested salt but that didn’t help as much as we thought, so we tried hot water and even then it took nearly an hour to free the toys.
And space out the toys before you freeze them into the ice
With all the work the kids did picking away at the ice, some did come loose. But I had packed in so many dinosaurs that they got caught up in each other even if enough ice was chipped away.
So be sure to space the toys out if you try this.
The kids will love their ice activity
And when I’m describing all these mistakes, it might seem like our dinosaur ice dig was a disaster. A frustrating, somewhat dangerous disaster.
But do you know what? The kids loved it. They were so engaged in what they were doing – and stuck with it for a long time – especially the 4 year old.
And the language and discussion was worth the agonising frustration of not being able to free the toys.
Plus, because I did one pretty botched ice dig, I learned how to do it right.
Ice dig round 2: getting it right
So when I made a last minute second ice dig it went much better.
I used fewer dinosaurs so they were well spaced out.
And completely covered them with water – by first freezing them in a small amount of water then topping it up with some more to be sure they were fully encased in ice.
That second set of frozen dinosaurs was a lot thinner than the first.
And it had been in the freezer for less time (because it was a last minute thing) so the ice wasn’t so solid.
The dinosaurs from that second dig were free in 15 minutes. If that’s too soon for you, adjust the ice accordingly – 2 inches of ice is probably okay but 4 is not.
So, the recipe for a great ice dig activity:
Don’t use too many of the toys or objects you’re trapping in ice. You want space between them so they don’t trap each other. Space them out.
Start with a small amount of water – enough to cover the base of the container so all your objects will get stuck in the resulting thin ice layer.
Then add more water once the first layer is frozen so all your objects will be fully covered by ice. Don’t go crazy – if it’s like a door step it’ll take forever to melt like ours did.
Take the ice dig out of the freezer some time before you want to use it so the ice will begin to soften. You want it quite wet and crunchy – not solid and glass-like when you give it to your child.
That way they can scrape and tap and dig into it instead of hitting as hard as they can. Flying shards of solid ice are a bad idea. (You might want to consider eye protection.)
Give the children a selection of possible tools to choose from so they have a choice and think about what will work best without taking unnecessary risks. (And watch out for them grabbing inappropriate items when you’re not looking.)
And it doesn’t have to be dinosaurs – of course not.
So what else could you freeze?
That depends on your child – their likes and where they are with their development.
Cars, plastic animals, spoons, curtain rings, lego bricks and shells will all work great for a fun problem solving activity that’s great for fine motor skills.
It takes lots of delicate hand work scraping or hitting the ice to release whatever’s inside.
And if your child’s old enough to be learning letters and numbers, you can freeze them too.
(Digging out letters and numbers is a perfect recognition activity for preschoolers.)
For more ideas for letter recognition watch this short video:
You can get lots of free educational activities and ideas for your preschooler or young learner when you sign up for my resource library.