da Vinci schma Vinci: Ice art for the creatively challenged.

It is finally warming up here.  I should be elated, but I find that warmth has turned the snow to mud.  Except for right by the front door–our main entry way is always shaded, and continues to be a slippery death trap.  The house feels cramped and boring after this cold winter.  Even the dog seems lethargic.

I have been in need of color and something creative to do, so this morning I tried ice art.  I saw something similar to this online a few weeks ago somewhere–I can’t for the life of me find the page again, but a quick search pulled up dozens of other moms and teachers who’ve done the same thing.  And I found this cool video of salt melting ice in slow motion.  Some recommend using liquid water colors which can enhance the melting, but I used just plain old food coloring.

This is an easy activity for ages 4 to 12, and there is much room for personal touches and creative exploration.  You’ll need some rock salt (I tried other kinds too–rock salt is definitely best), food coloring, water, and water-holding containers.  It will also come in handy to have a tray (rimmed baking sheet) to contain the melting ice water and the water or food coloring–throwing an old towel onto your work surface might also be a good idea.  I also used paper towels to guide the colored drops, which was fun.  You can do this indoors or out–I did it outside because I needed the sunlight, but this is hardly required.

What’s great about this little activity is the perfect overlap of creativity and art with questioning and ‘scientific’ discovery.  With a little encouragement from you, all sorts of questions can be asked and explored, even while beautiful art is created.  Why does ice melt?  Does the salt make the ice melt faster?  Why?  Do we use salt to melt ice anywhere else in our lives?  Does one kind of salt work better than another?

To begin, freeze water in several differently shaped vessels the day before… this would be a great extension to the frozen water balloons if you want.  Tall cups, muffin tins, tupperwares of different sizes, and any number of other containers would work as well.  I recommend taller containers so that the salt and food coloring can make their way down a long path.  I used muffin tins, but wished I’d done it in a drinking glass.

Once the water is frozen, remove your block of ice from its container and drop some rock salt on the top.  You can experiment with spreading them around, putting a few pieces all together, or whatever else suits your fancy.  Now walk away for a half an hour (if you can)

The salt will slowly works its way into your block of ice, creating channels and cracks, and beautiful fissures.  If you want, you can add a little more salt as the first bit dissolves.  Or turn your ice block over and put some on the other side as well.  You can use regular salt too–the effect is very different as you get lots of very small channels, but it is just as interesting.

When you can’t wait any longer, add drops of food coloring to the holes that the salt has created and watch it works its way into all of the nooks and crannies created by the salt.  The process is beautiful and fluid.  You can watch the colors work their way through the ice.  Hold your creation up the the light for a beautiful sun-catcher.  Mix two colors together.  Use an eyedropper just because they’re fun.

And if your blocks get wet enough as the salt melts the ice you can refreeze them together by pressing the wet surfaces to each other and letting them sit for a little bit.

Need even more excitement?  Get a chisel and small hammer and crack open your creations when you’re done (sunglasses or other eye protection would be a good idea here).  Stick them on a snow man, or the snow fort in the backyard for decoration.  Most of all, have fun!


4 Comments so far

Comments Feed
  1. Love it! I had to teach our preschool co-op a few weeks ago and we did this same thing. The kids were fascinated by it and had to keep checking up on in throughout class!

  2. Becca

    We love doing this! We fill 7″ balloons with water and freeze them for a couple of days. Then each kid gets a balloon on a tray and access to flashlights, salt, food coloring, a rinsing dish, paint, toothpicks, forks, and, eventually, a hammer (to smash their ice balloon outside when they’re done). So SO fun!

  3. Bonnie

    So cool!

  4. We’ve done this. Cool project and the kids loved it.


    I'm Lindsey. I'm an environmental educator, my husband's a biologist. The outdoors is infused into everything we do; which explains why I'm better at mud pies than home decorating. More About Me

    I don't blog alone! Meet outsidemom contributer Olivia