Frozen Ocean Animal Rescue {salt, water, & ice play}

Frozen Ocean Animal Rescue | Mama.Papa.Bubba.

Gracen and I are lucky enough to have one of her little friends join us for an afternoon of play each Wednesday.  They play quite well together, so I put a few things out for them to explore  in advance, then step back to let them play, helping communication and sharing happen when needed.  We always have a good time together, but the last couple of times I’ve noticed that together they plow through the activities I’ve set out (2 minutes of play dough! 1 stroke of paint!  3 minutes of water play!) and then look at me with eager eyes for something more. 

I knew I wanted to try something different for today’s play date and my thought was that if I set out only one activity – something engaging and encouraging of teamwork – the afternoon may have a calmer vibe to it.  I wasn’t sure what that activity would look like exactly, but when Jackie of Happy Hooligans shared her dino dig on our Facebook page, I new that I wanted to try something similar.  This sort of ‘buried treasure’ ice play has been on my mental to do list forever, and I knew it would be the perfect way to slow things down a little and allow the munchkins to really become invested in their play.

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Though it took a little bit of advanced planning, the activity was a breeze to set up.  Using Miss G’s collection of miniature ocean creatures, a few plastic aquarium plants, a plastic mixing bowl, tap water, and a few drops of food colouring, I created a ‘frozen ocean’ by freezing it in layers,  adding a few more plants / animals and more water each time.


I also prepped a couple of fun things to help the melting process along – these old glue bottles filled with water and a drop or two of food colouring


And some coloured salt which is simply made by shaking table salt and a one or two drops of liquid food colouring in a jar or bag.


Then I set everything out, along with some cutlery and mini tongs, in a great big shallow basin placed on an old shower curtain.


Before getting started, we investigated the frozen ocean a bit and the munchkins pointed out all kinds of cool creatures that needed help ‘getting unstuck’.


Armed with their tools, the pair got started on their mission.


The water squirt bottles came out first…


And then came out the salt.


One thing that they quickly learned together was that if you sprinkled some salt on the ice and then quickly washed it away with a stream of water, the salt didn’t have enough time to do its job.


With some serious team work, scraping, sprinkling, and spraying, some of the trapped sea creatures began to come loose.



For much of the time, they focused on one very-close-to-being-free creature at a time, moving on to another only when the rescue was complete and proper cheers and celebrations had taken place.  Yay for working together!


Every now and then, they’d flip the ice block over to see what was going on on the other side of the ocean, and we were ofter surprised to see some nearly free creatures just needing a little tug to come loose.


Throughout the activity I did fill their water squirters and salt containers up a few times, but I also encouraged them to reuse the water and salt that was at the bottom of the basin and to try using different scraping and chipping techniques too, which they were happy to do.


Besides being super engaging and encouraging of cooperation, the entire process was just so beautiful!  The sparkly salt paired with the textured melting ice in a pool of greens and blues… It was gorgeous!

Frozen Ocean Animal Rescue Activity | Mama.Papa.Bubba.

45 minutes after starting the mission, my little rescuers had saved all of the ocean creatures and our ice block was nearly gone.  Now I can’t wait to do a larger scale version outdoors in the summer…

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26 thoughts on “Frozen Ocean Animal Rescue {salt, water, & ice play}

  1. Love it! SO trying this, although I might wait until it warms up a little here. The last thing I want more of right now is ice :P

    1. Are you looking for a similar activity for a bigger group of children, Rose? If we had a deep freeze or freezing outdoor temps right now, I’d make the frozen ocean in a big bin or basin instead of a bowl. Same technique, just more space for a group of kiddos to work with. :)

  2. I was very inspired by your idea and tried this today. My children and I all ended up with very blue hands from the food dye in the salt. Did i do something wrong? My kids also got frustrated and it didnt hold their attention as well as I was expecting…. They’re almost 2, perhaps too young….

    1. Hey Kate!

      I’m sorry the activity didn’t go as you hoped it would… That’s always disheartening! :(

      We didn’t have any issues with hand staining, so I’m guessing it was the amount of food colouring used possibly? We used a single drop of colouring to about a half cup of salt, so it really wasn’t much.

      As for the activity not holding their attention, I agree – they may be too young. Perhaps something similar in a smaller scale would be more engaging and less overwhelming for them? What about freezing single sea creatures in muffin cups?

  3. Just came across a comment on this fun activity. Awesome idea to try. I know my little ones enjoy things like this. My kids love archaeology kind of stuff where they work to break things free and discover. Love this and will be trying it soon too.

  4. I love this idea! I am working on a fairy party for my little one and she had the awesome idea of setting up activities for different fairy talents. I just have to decide to set this up as a water talent or animal talent activity or maybe both talents working together!

  5. This is gorgeous and looks really fun! I’m in the midst of creating one right now. Froze the first layer this afternoon. When i poured the water in for the second layer tonight the first layer cracked. I thought perhaps because the water was too warm (room temp out of the tap). So, I’ve filled two containers of dyed water and put in the fridge for the next layer? I’ll see how it goes. Any suggestions jen?

    Also, i noted you said you refilled the salt a lot. I was wondering if using some sort of a shaker with big holes would slow the amount of salt used while still being effective for melting?

    I don’t have spray bottles on hand (LOVE the idea of reusing glue bottles). Are they essential? Kinda thinking they are.

    Thanks Jen, I always love your ideas, instructions and photos. Great job!

  6. I love this! Where did you get the big bucket/bowl that the you used for the ice block to mealt in?

  7. I made something similar recently but just for an ice sculpture as a bday table decoration… Only problem was that it was super cloudy and no could see the #4 birthday candle embedded inside … Any tips for getting it so clear?

  8. It’s a great activity! It cost me a sleepless night while freezing, but kids in the summer camp were fascinated. To my great surprise rescue was interesting not only for younger kids, but for teens as well. Thank you!

  9. Awesome idea for children to spend their time especially holiday.. If don’t mind, can I know the suitable age of children to join this activity?

  10. I have seen the idea before and used it in my classroom with success. I never thought to freeze it in stages in order to get more animals in!
    Fabulous idea x

  11. We have frozen Lego figurines in ice and rescued them before, but this is a whole other level of beauty with the crystal-clear ice and colored water and salt. You got some great photos and I bet the color added another dimension to their fun. Great idea!

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