Garden Ice Sculpture

Here in California, winter has departed–at least for the moment. While I love turning my face to the warm sun on these “winter” days, I’m afraid I lost my chance to delight in cold, wet weather. So, to help the kids appreciate a bit of cold, and a bit of what the weather gods have bestowed these days, we created garden ice sculptures.


And of course in our house, it’s all about the fantasy play. Jasmine became a garden archeologist, baby Chloe her assistant.


Here’s what we did:


First, we collected our “fossils”. The girls each carried a basket and were permitted to collect objects that had fallen on the ground, (my way of keeping living flowers alive for the nectar-eating creatures.)


Second, I filled a large baking dish with water. Jasmine arranged the objects in the dish.


Third, we placed the dish in the freezer. Periodically throughout the day Jasmine checked on the frozen status of her sculpture-in-progress. We noticed how ice formed on the top of the sculpture first, the way ice forms on the top of a pond before the entire body of water freezes. We jiggled the sculpture, watching bubbles under the surface dance with the cold water beneath.


Fourth, we removed our frozen object from the freezer. I heated the outside of the dish, showing Jasmine how we could melt just the outer portion of the sculpture enough to remove it from the pan. We turned it out onto a low broiling pan in a sunny location, which illuminates the ice brilliantly, making the whole sculpture glow.


Fifth, I gave the kids tools to work with her “fossils.” Mainly, she likes using a warm paintbrush (dipped in warm water) to work the fossils out of the sculpture. She delights in this process, discussing her discoveries as she goes (mainly creatures we’ve read about in her dinosaur library). “This is a brontosaurus leg bone, and here’s a passionflower it was eating.”


Finally, I gave the kids saltshakers to disperse salt on the sculpture. We discuss how salt makes the ice melt more quickly.

There are many variations on this project–one of our favorites is creating sedimentary “rock” layers. When we’re done playing, putting it back in the dish with another layer of water that’s been dyed. When we remove it the next time, we can see the two layers of “rock” that resemble sedimentary rock layers.


Also, this is a wonderful activity for a cold, “indoor” day – it occupies my girls for long stretches of time.


Hilary Stamper