Dino Dig – melting ice with salt and water

Dino Dig: Melting ice with salt and water.  Science, water play, and fine motor development all wrapped up in a fun, icy activity!

When it comes to simple science activities, ice and salt and water are always a huge hit! Any water play activity always captivates my daycare hooligans for hours, but this one is a favourite.   I’ve been itching for the weather to warm up so we could do it again, but I wasn’t sure if this year’s crowd would get into it as seriously as last year’s did.

melting ice with salt and water experiment for  kids

Well, I’m happy to say that they loved it just as much as the gang did last Spring, and this year, I made our ice block quite a bit bigger, and they were at it for 2 solid hours.  Yep, you read that right.  TWO solid hours.

If you’re looking for an activity to keep your hooligans engaged for a good looong time this summer, THIS is the one for you!  It’s really easy to prepare, and won’t cost you a thing!

What you’ll need for your ice block:

supplies for dino dig activity

  • toy dinosaurs
  • stones
  • shells
  • plastic crystals
  • large container

We froze our ice in layers, over the course of a couple of days, adding a few items to the water, placing the container in the freezer, and repeating with another layer when the previous one was frozen.  toy dinosaurs and shells frozen in ice

When our ice block was frozen, I decided to make it bigger, so I placed it in a larger container, and we added cold water and a few more items and popped it back into the freezer.  On Friday, I ran a little hot water over the container and our large ice block slipped right out.

Now you’ll need some “equipment”:

I set out an assortment of tools for the hooligans to dig their frozen treasures out of the ice:

  • salt coloured with a few drops of blue food colouring
  • a shaker container for the salt
  • small pate spreaders
  • syringes
  • plastic test tubes
  • turkey baster
  • tweezers
  • bowl of hot water

I placed everything in a shallow storage container, and set it on a small bench in the backyard.

Let the digging begin!kids gathered around a sensory bin of ice and salt and water

The first thing the hooligans went for was the coloured salt.  They sprinkled it liberally all over the ice block which started the melting process.sprinkling blue salt on a block of ice

Then they used the syringes, baster and test tubes to pour the hot water over the ice.IMG_9197

The salt mixed with the water, and turned everything an icy blue, which was really neat.

As the salt ate away at the ice, and the warm water did its work, deep wells started to form in the block, and the ice took on a bumpy, crystalized texture.dino dig:  a sensory, fine motor and science activity

The hooligans worked with their “knives” to cut and chop and dig at the ice.

They tried digging the treasures out with their fingers, but soon learned that the most efficient way to get to the goods was with the water.dino dig: science activity.  digging toys out of an ice block

The syringes and turkey baster required lots of co-ordination and fine motor control, and they concentrated and gave it their full effort.dino dig: melting ice with salt water

The little girls wandered away from the activity from time to time, but I am not kidding when I tell you that the boys did not leave the bin once in the two hours that it took them to complete their mission.

They worked away, pouring and digging, and hollering excitedly when they freed something from the ice.  The shells and stones and crystals produced small celebrations, but the loudest cheers would go up  when they got a dinosaur.

I refilled their bowl with warm water once, and after that, they were happy using the water and melted ice in the bin.

After about an hour and a half, I moved the activity into the shade and at that point, I flipped the ice block over to see if they wanted to go at it from the under-side.


dinosaurs and shells frozen in ice

The littles loved the smooth feel of the bottom of the ice block after working with the bumpy salt-eaten side, but the boys flipped it back over, preferring to continue with their mission as they had been.

digging a dinosaur out of the ice

freeing the last of the items from the block of ice

Slowly, the ice block got smaller and smaller, and they were able to break off chunks of ice, and hold them to remove whatever was encased in them.

And finally, at almost the 2 hour hour mark, they freed the last of their treasures.

shells and stones frozen in ice

I’m so thrilled that this activity went over this well two years in a row.  I’m already thinking of doing it again this season.  I just have to think of what to freeze in the ice to put a bit of a different spin on it.playing with plastic test tubes

Isn’t it wonderful that a simple activity like this can engage a child for so long?  Their determination and perseverance truly impressed me.  And, it was a ton of fun and learning, and a great way to keep cool on a hot morning!

See more of our cool outdoor water play ideas for kids?

Waterworks activity

Deep Blue Sea Bin

Coloured Water Laboratory

Fairy Soup

Coffee Shop Pretend Play



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