A few weeks ago I led a messy art camp at our cooperative preschool. Toward the end of the week we had a Frozen/ice-themed day that everyone loved- it was a great way to beat the Texas heat! One of the simple activities I made was a huge bowl of colored ice cubes for ice painting. I brought an old sheet to use as our canvas and spread it on the ground for the kids, ages 2-5, to experiment with. Some of the kids actually painted with the ice cubes, while another group had more fun arranging the ice cubes in patterns on the sheet, essentially using them as loose parts. As the ice patterns began to melt in the sun, the swirls of paint and water made the most beautiful tie-dye effect on the sheet, and the children were fascinated that they had worked along with the sun to create the gorgeous mural. It was such a crazy cool activity with an unexpected and beautiful result- seriously one of the highlights of camp!
I didn’t get many pictures that day but the twins asked if we could do this activity again last week, so as you can imagine this time I was excited to snap some photos of the process.
I started by making some colored ice cubes. I simply filled several ice cube trays almost full of water and then topped them off with a few squirts of liquid watercolors in a rainbow of colors. You can experiment with different types of paint here, but liquid watercolors are very vivid and probably give the best swirling tie-dye effect since they are thinner than other types of paint that are readily available for children. You can find the brand I used HERE on Amazon – of the brands I’ve tried these are my favorite by far. Food coloring would probably work too, but be aware that you will have some staining of skin if you use them- our liquid watercolors washed off easily with soap and water. Also, if you have children that like to lick and mouth ice, be mindful of that when choosing your coloring. We had young two-year-olds in our art camp group so we were extra vigilant during the ice play to be sure the colorful cubes weren’t ingested, but it didn’t end up being an issue.
I love sitting back and watching how my twins (age 3.5) respond to different activities. Although both loved the ice paint, my son was the most focused on it, and he spent a long time experimenting with the melting ice long after his sister had run off to catch bugs in the garden. He loved arranging the ice in different ways and watching the colors mix and swirl.
One of their favorite things to make were “ice trains” or “ice caterpillars,” which made really fantastic designs when they melted.
My little guy examining his creations. You can see why he was so fascinated, right? Just beautiful.
So here’s a shot of the sheet hung up to dry after we were done. Pretty, right? Unfortunately the liquid watercolors will wash right out in the machine if you ever launder the sheet, so it’s not a good candidate if you want to create something truly permanent. But you could still use the sheet as a super cool mural, or just use it (like we are) for fun to lay on in the grass until it’s just too dirty for words..and then wash it and do it all over again. For us, this was much more about the process of creating than the final product (see more about why we love process art HERE), so we’re cool with it. But if you want something more permanent and still super fun, try this water shooter tie dye idea from Fantastic Fun and Learning- so cool!
But What Are They Learning?
In addition to process art, this activity incorporates sensory play, which has tons of developmental and learning opportunities which you can read about here. While watching my son, I made note of all of the different observations he made aloud to me, and it is apparent just how much learning happens through hands-on exploration of interesting materials. We talked about the temperature, solids vs. liquids, and freezing vs. melting. We wondered what would happen if we tried this activity in winter, which led us to a simple discussion about why he thinks some months are colder than others. We used problem solving skills to brainstorm how we could make the ice melt faster- Will thought maybe we could hold the ice closer to the sun or light a campfire near our art station. We made predictions about what designs the different ice patterns would make as they melted and then we checked to see if our predictions came true. Cause and effect, color mixing, and even a little chromatography…it’s all in there, along with a healthy dose of early math skills with all the sorting and patterning. Boom. Meaningful learning without a worksheet in sight. Good stuff right there.