Ice excavation activity is a fun sensory and fine motor activity for preschoolers. They will have a blast trying to dig through the ice and rescue the animals!

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The weather is starting to get cooler, so I am making an effort to cling on to the last days of short-sleeve weather (keep in mind we are in SoCal) and think of outside activities before it gets too cold. And what do kids love to play with the most? Anything disgusting and gross! Haha just kidding…kind of. But the answer is WATER! And what could be possibly more fun than water? FROZEN WATER! Or otherwise known as ice.

If it’s already chilly and maybe even snowing where you live, you can definitely do this sensory ice excavation activity inside the warmth of your house by putting the ice blocks inside a large container or even doing the activity in the bathtub. Don’t miss out on the fun just because it’s cold out! All you need is:

  • Balloons (I recommend at least 12”)
  • Miniature figurines (of course, the bigger figurines you use, the bigger the balloons you need)
  • Pom poms

The first step is to stuff the miniature figurines and pom poms in the balloons. It’s not the easiest thing in the world, but it’s doable. Just stretch the opening of the balloon as wide as possible and push the figurines in there. You can squeeze more figurines and pom poms in the balloon than you think, but be careful not to create a hole. We made two sets, one with bugs and one with animals.


Then, fill the balloons up with water just as you would with a water balloon. I filled the one with animal figurines with a little less water to make it easier for Zoe to get through the ice. Then simply put the filled balloons in the freezer overnight for the water to solidify! One tip: Squeeze out the air in the balloons after you fill them up with water. The figurines tend to float up toward the air bubble and so you end up with all the figurines concentrated in one area of the balloon.

The process of making the ice blocks is fun enough to occupy your toddlers for a good chunk of time. If they are interested, have them try and stuff the pom poms in the balloons themselves (pom poms are much easier than the miniature toys). My toddlers were also very amused by the not-yet-frozen water balloons and loved trying to make the animals “swim” around in the balloon by pushing them around.

~*~*~*~ a few days later ~*~*~*~

So, the weather got a little cold for a few days so I held off on taking out the ice blocks. Finally, we had a nice, sunny day and it was time to break out the ice excavation activity! The kids were super excited, and I have to admit, mommy was a little giddy too.

First, pick your tools of destruction. Of course, if your kids are very little, I would stay away from the screwdrivers or anything sharp. I gave Zoe a mini screwdriver and Alex got the bigger one (even then I supervised him very closely to ensure that he didn’t poke a hole through his hands). Just for fun, I also took out the meat tenderizer. If you had a hard day, trust me, smashing a giant block of ice with a meat tenderizer may be more helpful than meditating. Use a scissor to cut open the balloons and the ice blocks are free! The kids both tried the screwdrivers at first and they were very amused at how the screwdrivers chipped away at the ice.

After a while, Alex got impatient and decided to move on to the meat tenderizer. He LOVED smashing the ice blocks – how often does a toddler get to hit something as hard as he can without getting in trouble? After a few smashes, Alex managed to break his ice block in three and freed a couple of animals. Then, as any good brother would do, he helped Zoe smash her ice block since she wasn’t making much progress with her tiny screwdriver.


We also decided to try and melt away the ice with hot water. The hot mug was for mommy’s hands only, of course, so the kids watched as I poured hot water on the ice, and they oohed and aahed as the ice slowly melted away.


Alex spotted a brush that we used to clean the grill and wanted to try brushing the animals free. That didn’t work so well, but I loved how he was thinking and experimented with his hypothesis!
Even the dog got in on the fun and licked some of the animals free!

Finally, Alex got impatient and decided to take matters into his own hands. Just as any future scientist would (okay mommy can dream), he utilized the power of acceleration and force and threw the ice blocks until they broke. And guess what? That actually worked!

Overall, the ice excavation activity was a huge success. Both of the kids loved it, and we had so much fun together thinking of different ways to free the figurines and pom poms. Zoe even had fun collecting all the figurines together so that we could dry them out in the sun and use them for the next ice excavation adventure! We will definitely be doing this one again and again! Next time, I am going to try sprinkling salt to see how well salt melts ice!

What other water activities do you like to do with your kids?