Ice Jewels

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The next time there’s snow in the forecast, make a batch of “jewels” ahead of time so you can delight your little ones with sparkly ice treasures!

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To make the jewels, simply freeze water in the compartments of an ice cube tray and add a bit of all-natural food coloring to each. I like to fill the compartments only about half way so the colors stay separate; otherwise you risk having them splash together and result in brown gems.

When Veronika and I headed out to the back patio to explore the recent snowfall, I popped the treasures out of the ice cube tray for her.

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These are so fun to arrange in pretty patterns, as we did on the rungs of her slide. Your kids might want to make patterns along tree branches, the edge of a walkway or patio, or even just on top of the snow.

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Veronika also loved that pretty pockets of color appeared in the snow wherever she tossed them in. Then you can dig up your buried gemstones and start all over.

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Winter Bowling

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Every season seems to have its own perfect variation on bowling, whether giant inflatable unicorns in the summer, haunted bowling in the fall, and now ice bowling in the winter!

For pins, fill water bottles about 3/4 of the way with water and let stand outside overnight to freeze (or place in your freezer if the temperature in your region doesn’t dip that low). Make sure to leave some room in the bottles for the ice to expand.

For balls, fill water balloons with water and freeze overnight. In the morning, slip off the rubber and you have perfect ice spheres to bowl with. The little balls of ice absolutely delighted both kids, so much so I worried they would just play with those and ignore the bowling completely!

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Eventually Travis loved taking tosses and rolls at our ice “pins” and seeing how many he could get with one shot.

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There’s an extra catch that makes this version of bowling harder; if you throw your ice ball too hard, it might shatter!

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Come to think of it, that fact probably added to Travis’s fun.

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Veronika didn’t seem to be a huge fan of the ice bowling, so I took her inside for a warmer and more toddler-friendly version. We emptied the ice from the bottles and simply rolled a nice big bouncy ball at empty ones.

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For a toddler, persistence is key! I showed her how to reset the pins and try again after each roll.

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We also lined up the bottles in different formations to make the game more interesting.

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And sometimes, she preferred just to sit and play with the bottle pins, which was all part of the fun!

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What’s your winter spin on bowling? Please share in the comments!

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Skating Party

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When ice cubes melt against a slippery surface like metal, they start to naturally slip and slide around. Turn that little scientific fact into a “skating party” by freezing small plastic animals in the ice ahead of time!

I filled an ice cube tray with water and then after about 2 hours, when the cubes had started to set but weren’t frozen solid, I pressed a toy animal into the top of each. A set of arctic animals fit nicely with the icy winter theme. I wish I’d had a few penguins to include, too! Let freeze completely overnight.

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At first I set these out on a plastic tray, where Veronika was immediately delighted to see favorite animals in the ice. But it quickly became apparent that we needed a metal cookie sheet for them to “skate”.

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The ice started to melt almost immediately once we made that switch, and just a gentle tap of the finger sends your animals “skating”.

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Veronika’s favorite was the snow hare, which she hopped and skated all about. Travis loved making the animals take wild skating spins across the tray.

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He also wanted to try freeing them from the ice, another oldie-but-goodie ice game.

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And we all laughed at the way the ice animals could spin and move.

In sum, a fun quick activity before even heading off to school!

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Ice Skating Rink

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This special holiday crate from Kiwi Co. is a fantastic way to fit in a STEM activity this holiday season, whether you’re currently home-schooling, or school has gone remote once more, or you just have extra hours to fill indoors now that cold afternoons are here!

To start, Travis screwed the provided table leg pegs into bolts so that the wooden base of the skating rink stands sturdily just above the ground.

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That quickly, it was time for wires and batteries… The good stuff! Travis loved helping insert batteries into the provided case and attaching to the bottom of the table base with sticky foam. The provided motor sticks on next, and he then helped connect the wires: red to red and black to black.

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Turn the table over and add the center gear on the peg above the motor. Additional gears then slot in between this central one and the outer frame.

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The hardest part of the whole project, oddly, was the background decorations that came next. The provided snowy backdrop and trees are supposed to fit into slits in the felt, but it’s very hard to get them to stay put. This is a minor quibble, since the decor is cute but not necessary for the rink to work.

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So we moved on to the real excitement! The “skaters” are tiny felt figures (gingerbread men, penguins, and snowmen) who each slot into a metal nut. These are placed on the plastic that covers the gears, which each have magnets. So once kids switch the motor on, the gears begin to spin and the magnets on the gears are attracted to the metal of the the nuts, making those little felt figures skate around.

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Truth be told, the contraption is very temperamental and the felt figures easily snap out of their metal nut. Likewise, the magnets come off of the gears very easily, so we had to do lots of fixing and problem solving in between rounds of having the motor on. But here’s an adorable clip of the rink in motion!

I loved the way Travis quickly learned to troubleshoot these glitches. He had his head bent over the skating rink along with little sister Veronika, both of them delighting as they watched the figures snap onto the magnets to skate, then laughing at how quickly everything tumbled apart, then fixing it and starting all over.

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In sum, a great STEM project. Plus, the booklet had in-depth explanations about why ice is slippery and about precisely how the gears and magnets work to make the contraption move.

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Colored Ice Cube Bath

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Veronika has loved playing with ice this summer, so tonight we brought the fun inside. If she thought ice melted fast on the patio, just wait until she saw how fast it would melt in the warm bath tub!

To make everything more fun (plus more obvious visually), I froze water in the compartments of an ice cube tray with a little food coloring added to each. Dark colors like reds and blues will work better here than soft yellow.

Once Veronika was in the tub, I popped out the ice cubes one at a time. Be prepared for fast action, because that ice isn’t going to last long!

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She loved watching the food coloring swirl out into the tub as the ice melted almost instantly. She also enjoyed taking the cubes from my hand, a momentary shocking sensation of cold.

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When we had about half the ice cube tray left, I dumped them all in at once for a grand finale. This game was – obviously! – quick, but made for a joyful end to a hot day.

Ice Sandbox and Block Play

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The heat wave continues in our area and that means so does the icy fun. How did we play with ice today? Think boxes and blocks.

First up was an ice “sandbox”, a fantastic riff on at-home sandbox play.┬áBut this time I filled a shallow tray with crushed ice instead of sand.

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I added a few beach toys and we headed out to the back patio. From there, it was the coolest beach day ever! We decided to squeeze on food coloring for fun, but you can skip that part.

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Veronika then loved scooping through the ice with a beach shovel and using it to fill up little toy boats and sand pails.

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She also loved hopping a frog through the ice. And feeding the frog some ice! It must have been thirsty.

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But those tiny ice chips melt fast when it’s already 80 degrees at 8 a.m., so we needed something more solid. Luckily I was prepared.

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The night before, freeze water in an empty milk container. I added a few drops of blue food coloring to this one for an ocean feel, then trapped a few toys inside (an activity that the kids never tire of).

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No need to chip away at the ice with a hammer on this day, though; the sun did all the work and melted her little toys free!

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Even neater, the water in our almond milk carton hadn’t frozen entirely over night, leaving a crystal cavern of water in the middle.

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Big brother Travis delighted in this particular ice game even more, picking apart the block and releasing the toys inside as each portion melted.

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Finally, I had filled a bunch of water balloons the night before and then popped them in the freezer!

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These were a fantastic hit. Veronika held them and bounced them liek yo-yos…

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…and giggled at how cold they felt when she held them.

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And of course we could smash them to the ground to crack open like icy eggs.

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Now we were all cooled off!

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Paint Popsicles

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For a cool toddler art project, today Veronika and I played around with paint popsicles in a few different ways. In retrospect, I would have waited on this activity until she was a little older, since today she really just wanted to eat a popsicle! But we did get in a little art, too.

The night before, freeze two kinds of “popsicles”. I poured tempera paint (in pretty metallic colors) into two popsicle molds, and then filled two more with plain water. Insert the sticks and freeze overnight.

The next morning, we headed out to the patio, already scorching hot!

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We started with the plain ice popsicles, which was when I realized we were going to have a bit of a problem. Veronika spotted the popsicle molds, and wanted a taste! This didn’t matter with the plain water, but I worried what would happen when we got to the paint version.

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Luckily, I was able to divert her attention to the craft: sprinkle a little powdered paint on a piece of poster board or thick paper. Use the ice “popsicle” to turn it into beautiful swirls of paint. She watched for a few minutes before joining in (and I did still need to deter a few licks).

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As a result, I only briefly showed her the “popsicles” made from actual paint. These are similar in concept, except now there’s no need for powdered paint. Simply swirl the icy paint over thick paper. The more it melts, the more paint gets left behind.

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But with her temptation to eat them, I detoured to a version she would be less likely to try to devour. We sprinkled powdered paint onto paper in a container small enough for her to hold in her hands.

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Add ice cubes and show your toddler how to shake it side to side. Again, the ice melts and leaves pretty swirls of color behind.

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As you can guess, this activity was short-lived, but fun nonetheless!

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Edible Sno Cone Creation Station

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Here’s an activity that will a) cool the kids off; b) provide sensory play; c) fire up the imagination; and d) give them a yummy snack! I told the kids they were going to open up their own sno cone stand, and the excitement began.

I set out a tray of crushed ice (an easy task thanks to our fridge filtration system, but a blender can do this for you, too), then added ice cream scoops.

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For “cones”, we folded conic shapes from craft foam. These turned out to be very easy to break, so next time I would probably stick to little plastic bowls.

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All they needed now were fruit syrups to flavor the ice! For these, I simply pureed fruits in the blender. We had pink from strawberries and deep purple from a mix of blueberries and blackberries.

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If you have condiment squirt bottles, those would be perfect to use here! I gave the kids paper cups filled with each syrup instead, along with plastic spoons.

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As with a recent nature soup activity, I loved that this game could engage both my toddler and 1st grader in different ways. For Veronika, it was all about the sensory aspects. First she just loved spooning through the ice.

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When she tasted plain ice, she copied big brother and said, “It’s yummy!” but I don’t think she really thought so.

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“It’s cold!” she added instead, looking confused. So we showed her how to spoon the berry syrup on top of her ice. Well now she couldn’t be stopped!

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In retrospect I would have done this activity in just a diaper to avoid berry stains, but it was worth a few purple splotches. She was having such delicious fun I let it be.

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Travis, meanwhile, enjoyed the role-play aspect of the game. He loved using the ice cream scoop to properly fill a “cone,” and then asking me for my order, adding strawberry or purple berries on top accordingly.

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And of course he did lots of tasting, too!

Ice Cube Bags

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If it’s going to be hot, then I’m going to put the heat of the sun to work for me! These ice cube sensory bags turn into a color mixing experiment the longer they’re out in the sunshine.

For set up, I thought it would be fun to freeze cube-shaped ice instead of ice in a standard ice cube tray. I colored one-third of them yellow with food coloring, one-third red, and one-third blue.

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In the morning, I set up three gallon-sized zip-top bags for Veronika: one had yellow and blue ice, one had red and blue, and the third had blue and yellow.

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At first, it was all about the sense of touch. “Ooh! cold!” Veronika said, squeezing her hands on the ice.

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It was fun to watch the ice cubes slip and slide around in the bag!

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As the cubes melted, the color mixing became more apparent.

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As mentioned, you can move the game outdoors to the hot sun to speed the process along. Pretty soon your primary colors will have given way completely to secondary colors!

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Melty Masterpiece

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Veronika has already used ice as a paint brush, so now it was time to use ice as her canvas! This is a fantastic art activity for outdoors on a hot day.

Overnight, freeze a cube of ice in a large plastic food container. In the morning, I simply popped out the cube and set it on a tray for Veronika, along with 3 colors of paint.

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She immediately wanted to paint “all by self,” dipping her brush into one of the colors and watching it run over the ice.

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The neat trick here is that the sun will work to melt the ice at the same time your toddler works to paint it, resulting in beautiful drippy colors.

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She painted until it was completely coated in paint and gleaming.

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It was fun to watch the paint run down the sides together!

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We were curious how long it would take to melt completely, and left her melty masterpiece outside in the sunshine. After only about an hour, we had a peach-colored puddle instead.

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An ephemeral but fantastic art project for toddlers.

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