Rescuing frozen animals

This is one of my toddler’s absolute favourite activities, and it’s one we’ve done many, many times. We freeze her small plastic animals in ice cubes, and then ‘rescue’ them by melting the ice and setting them free!

My daughter is always asking if we can put her animals in ice cubes – on more than one occasion, I’ve gone to look for some ice cubes to make a drink, and I’ve opened the freezer to find a load of plastic animals staring back at me! It’s actually pretty great to have a fun activity ready to go at the drop of a hat – especially one that she enjoys so much.

I’m not that keen on super messy play, so water / ice play is perfect. It’s messy enough that my daughter has great fun, but since any spillages are only water, it doesn’t make me too anxious! We just use a big plastic tray, tip the ice cubes out, and get to work.

This activity is a great learning opportunity – there’s so much science to talk about when rescuing the animals! First, we like to talk about how the ice froze solid when it got really cold, trapping the animals inside – and, if we want to save them, we need to make the ice warmer, so that it melts back into a liquid.

In all the times we’ve done this activity, we’ve tried various methods for freeing the animals – I let her make some suggestions for what she thought would work.

At first, my daughter tried licking the ice, and warming it in her mouth (pretty effective, but it took a while!). Then, we tried brushing at the ice with an old toothbrush (not too effective, since it didn’t really warm the ice up much).

But our favourite method, and the method we use nearly every time we do this activity, is to use a cup of warm water. She loves dunking the animals in, often doing a bit of storytelling too (they’re ‘going swimming’ together!).

There’s another opportunity to talk about science here – as my daughter dunks her hand into the cup of water, the water level rises! I obviously don’t go into too much detail about displacement or anything like that (she’s only 2!), but it’s a cool observation to make together.

After all the ice has melted and the animals are free, we usually dry them off in a tea towel (she loves taking care of her toys like little babies, making sure they’re safe and dry!), then we head off to play with them elsewhere. This little activity usually keeps us entertained for at least an hour!

For this activity, you will need:

  • some small plastic animals
  • an ice cube tray
  • a freezer
  • a tray
  • a cup of warm water (or other tools for melting the ice)

You could extend this activity by:

  • freezing other small plastic toys, like small cars
  • doing more storytelling, e.g. have another toy come along to rescue them
  • think about what other things are liquid and solid
  • continue the ice theme by making ice lollies together

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