This Ice Age Sensory Bin is one of my favourites ways to keep kids entertained in the backyard in warm weather. It’s a fun form of water play that doubles as a terrific simple science activity.
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We have done this salt and ice and water activity so many times over the years, and each time we change things up a little so it’s new and exciting each time! Our ice age bin will cost you nothing to put together, and, it will keep your little ones busy for a good, long time!
It’s funny how we ended up doing this today: back in the fall, I filled a plastic container with water, tossed in a few small toys and random objects (buttons, shoe laces etc), and popped it in the freezer, thinking we’d have fun with it on a warm fall day. Well, the temps must have dropped, either that or I just kept forgetting about it because we never did get around to using it.
Every month or so, I’d run across that container of ice while rummaging through the freezer, and the other day I realized we’d better do something with it before I close my daycare’s doors for summer!
Setting Up Our Ice Age Bin:
This morning I placed the ice block in a clear bin, and set out some salt shakers, some coloured drive-way salt (stir in a few drops of food colouring), a bowl of coloured water, and some plastic syringes.
The Hooligans were just itching to get at this as I was setting it up. They’re good to give me a bit of space, and not come tooooooo close when I’m setting out an activity because they know that I like them to experience that “wow factor” when I call them over see it. I love hearing them whisper, and gasp and giggle as they try to inconspicuously sneak closer to get a glimpse of what it might be.
Then I call them over, and it’s all “Oooohs and Ahhhhs” and “Wows” as they investigate everything. 🙂
It didn’t take them long to figure out what the object of the activity was, and they wasted no time getting to work.
As they worked to melt the ice and free the toys and trinkets within, they talked to themselves and each other, planning and problem-solving with determination.
They sprinkled salt with the little spoons and squirted water with the syringes. They were so determined to free the toys. And because they hadn’t seen these toys in months, they were especially eager to get them out.
Big cheers went up when Dora’s friend “Boots” was finally freed from the ice.
They really co-operated and collaborated. Occasionally, they would take a break and get silly with the syringes (like squirt ME who was standing about 10 feet away), but then they’d get right back to work.
I expected at least one of them to get bored or frustrated and move on to something else, but I was wrong.
They were on a mission and totally committed to their task.
Not one child moved away from that bin until every single toy was freed from the ice. Not one!
Time from start to finish? An hour and 20 minutes!
Yep. That’s right. An hour and twenty minutes. Are you still with me, or are you already running madly around your home gathering up small toys and random objects?
Listen, you could make your ice block bigger than I did, and make this activity last even longer! Use cold water instead of warm water to melt the ice, and you could probably get a couple of hours out of it!
*Editing to add that we’ve since done a similar activity on a larger scale that kept them busy for TWO hours! Click here to see our Dino Dig!
And Woohoo for the kiddos! Mission accomplished!
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Jackie is a mom, wife, home daycare provider, and the creative spirit behind Happy Hooligans. She specializes in kids’ crafts and activities, easy recipes, and parenting. She began blogging in 2011, and today, Happy Hooligans inspires more than 2 million parents, caregivers and Early Years Professionals all over the globe.
Ali Wright (@athomewithali)
You just blow me away. This is fantastic and I am pinning it so that I remember to do this when the weather warms up. Adding the salt is genius!!
Aw, thanks, Ali! This was really a big hit! Hope you guys have as much fun with it as we did! 🙂
Love, love, love it! With all my lovin’ stuff!! (that’s what my 5 year old says about stuff he loves!) This is great, Jackie!
Thanks, Arlee! “with all my lovin’ stuff”. Too cute!
That looks like a blast!
Its funny because this is what they do at the zoo to entertain the animals (except they use food instead of toys and the animals don’t get salt!)
Reblogged this on Brenesflowers's Blog and commented:
I have used so many ideas from happy hooligans @ https://happyhooligans.ca/ We are totally doing this today!! Besides getting in the pool (if that’s available) I can’t think of a better way to make it through another Arizona summer!
Thanks for sharing! So…did you do it? How did it go? 🙂
Yes, I did it, and with just water. I’ll have to find some kind of fun salt to use for next time. We’re practically in Mexico here; so I don’t have driveway salt on hand. They were absolutely determined to set everything free. lol
Yay! Isn’t amazing how determined the are once they get started? I’m pretty sure table salt would speed up the melting process put a scientific spin on things. Yes, I would imagine driveway salt is fairly scarce in your area. Hee hee!
What an awesome post. Your enthusiasm is catching. Will have to wait to do it though as it is winter here in Australia and we are trying to find some ways to keep warm. Thaks for the great post, made my day.
Gina (aka East Coast Mommy)
Awesome idea! I just “pinned” it, and I will definitely be doing this with my boys on a hot day! 🙂
This is all kinds of wonderful! Pinned this so we can try it when Summer finally rolls around for us again!
So glad you all liked this idea! It’s such an easy one to pull together. I love that it can be completely different every time you make it!
I am just prepping my ice tubs with sea creatures now. We are doing the theme “Under the Sea” for a group of kids that I have over on Monday mornings (Funday Monday) and so I was so excited to see your Ice bins – it will be a perfect activity! I died my water blue for the ocean. I will let you know how it turns out! Enjoy your summer break!
So fun and creative! Sharing on fb!
Perfect for us in Australia right now as I am desperate for cool activities in the midst of a heatwave. We had 41 deg c yesterday so I have just prepped the ice tub for tomorrow.
It’s awful that we’re getting such extreme temperatures, isn’t it? If only we could have moderately cold or moderately hot. The intense heat and cold is just too much to take.
That’s awesome! Will do it with my kids. You understand exactly what makes kids happy and I love that! Those kids are lucky to have you!
Please be careful when choosing driveway salt as some contain harmful chemicals. I just use sea salt or other table salt and it works fine.
Most driveway salts are toxic and have clear labeling on them about their danger.
Actually, all salt is toxic, Brittany. Table salt should be kept out of reach of children as well as it can be fatal if too much is ingested. The driveway salt we use is the same as rock salt, which is used when making homemade ice cream. It’s not added to the ice cream for ingested, but used to as an agent to change the temperature of the ice. As always, supervision is key, and if you think there is a risk of your child ingesting the salt, it’s best to hold off on this activity until they’re older.
I did a similar idea for the niece’s Christmas presents. Instead of just giving them money, I froze coins in large tubs of ice. I gave them each a hammer and they had to wait a while to find out why. Was just as much fun for the adults watching them go crazy on the back lawn to get their money out!!
We did the dino dig months ago (I used a giant tub because we had -25 F temps and I took advantage!) and my kids are asking me all the time when we can do it again. I like this idea because I can use a smaller tub and colored salt. Great – thanks!!
We loved this idea! Our 2.5 year old stayed at it for a full 30 minutes trying to free his animals. Thanks for sharing this.
Yay! Glad it was a hit!
Thank you so much for reposting this.
Our one and three year old grandchildren are coming for the weekend.
I had to be creative since we don’t have many small freezeable toys (Easter egg with rock in it!), but I filled the bowl with stuff and water and its freezing now. I colored the salt and am ready to see what they do with it.
Love all of the ideas you posted, especially the bubble patch! Simple, yet fun.
You are amazing.
I just found your blog and havent had a chance to check out your older posts. Now I know I’ll have to make that priority.
I’m so glad you found me, Mari! Be sure to check out my main pinboard – you’ll see all of my crafts and activities there: https://www.pinterest.com/happyhooligans/happy-hooligans-posts/. Have fun with the grands this weekend!