Make: A Cardboard Ice Shanty Kids Winter STEAM Challenge

Inspired by northern winter outdoor traditions, this recycled cardboard ice shanty art project is a fun indoor creative building activity that combines design and engineering.

This project provides an opportunity for kids to investigate construction, hone critical-thinking skills, and encourages free exploration of a variety of mediums.

Our cardboard quonset hut ice house sitting on a faux pond with cardboard pine trees in front of a blue background with twinkle lights

Look out over a solidly frozen Minnesota lake on any given mid-winter morning, and you’re likely to see an eclectic assortment of little ice houses, each of them brimming over with character. Some are pure practicality from top to bottom, other ice houses have been carefully designed to feature bold colors and modern details, and many are built simply, from an assorted supply of scraps.

I first fell in love with the mystique of these charming structures after being gifted a beautiful bound collection of moody ice fishing shacks in Maine. More recently, I ran across this colorful series of funky Canadian fishing huts, and a project idea was born!

One of our green a-frame ice shanty sitting on a faux pond in front of a dark blue background with twinkle lights.

And a heads up for you readers who happen to live near the Twin Cities area: Minneapolis is home to a winter art shanty event that has brought beautiful art, vibrant color, and creativity to a frozen Bde Unma (almost) every year since 2004. The creative structures built and shared are a literal village of inspiration – and if you stop by, you can take part in some public art-making yourself!

For a different take on these constructions, visit our cardboard love shacks (wonderful for Valentine’s Day or summer STEAM projects) or celebrate this season of building with another northern winter classic – sugar cube ice castles.

To make your own miniature cardboard ice shanty you’ll need:

Note: We prefer to shop locally or use what we have at home, but this list contains Woodpeckers Crafts and/or Amazon affiliate links for reference. As Amazon Associates, we make a small commission on qualifying purchases.*

BASIC SUPPLIES:

  • A cardboard box and/or cardboard scraps
  • Scissors (I use this kind for cutting cardboard) or a utility knife.
  • A ruler
  • A hot glue gun (I like this kind for kids) or craft glue
  • Acrylic or tempera paint and foam brushes, paint brushes, chalk pastels, or other mark-making supplies
  • Other decorative craft supplies or small recycled bits and bobs

OPTIONAL SUPPLIES:

DIY Cardboard Miniature Ice Shanty Art Project Instructions:

  1. Sketch the basic plan for your ice shanty

    Take a few minutes to consider the basic shape of your ice shanty and sketch it out on paper. For kids who may need to start with a bit more direction, you can download our cardboard structure plans and prompts. These can be used for reference, or to build the exact scale of ice houses I built.
    The structure plan pages of our cardboard structure design kit for kids on an unfinished wood background.

  2. Draw your building pieces onto cardboard and cut out

    Using scissors or a utility knife, cut out your cardboard building pieces (adult help may be required for this part depending upon the age).
    Draw your building pieces onto cardboard and cut out

  3. Paint the main structure pieces

    Kids who are looking for a clean-edged paint job may find it a bit easier to paint the main structure pieces before assembling, but you can switch the order of these steps up – some kids may want to see their ice houses put together and then decide on paint colors. You can also skip painting altogether if you prefer!
    Paint the main structure pieces
    If you have them available, I’ve found foam brushes work best for this kind of painting.

  4. Assemble your structures

    Using a hot glue gun, glue the pieces of your structure together. OooOooo, now they’re really starting to look like something, aren’t they?
    Assemble your structures
    Remember, it’s perfectly okay if the sides of your house aren’t exactly aligned, a roof is jagged, or your houses don’t sit completely flat – ice shanties can be a bit wonky in real life, after all! We’re not going for perfection here – it’s all about exploring the building process and getting excited about the opportunities for creativity.

  5. Add personality with decoration and details

    It’s time to make this the ice shanty of your dreams. What personal touches will you add to give it your own style and flair?
    Add personality with decoration and details
    We added flags, bright trim, a colorful set of buoys, cardboard windows, and doors of different textures. I recycled a plastic takeout container to create “glass” windows for one of our shanties. The decoration for our houses is fairly basic by design – this is the time to let your creativity shine! Add little signs, paint or draw fun details, give it a theme, let your imagination run wild!

  6. Bonus Step: Make a frozen lake!

    These little ice fishing houses were just begging for a proper setting, so taking the extra step of creating a miniature frozen lake felt completely necessary. If you’d like to try making your own, start by cutting a lake shape from a light blue foam board. Tightly ball up a couple of pieces of white tissue paper to create lots of deep creases, then gently open and spread flat next to your foam board.
    Bonus step: Make a frozen lake!
    Using a foam brush, cover the foam board lake with a layer of mod podge, then lay your tissue paper sheet over top, pressing gently. Once your “lake” has been covered with tissue paper, coat with another layer of mod podge. If your foam board lake begins curling up at the edges as mine did, weigh down at each side with a couple of large books to flatten (once fully dry, of course).

    The creases and patterns of transparency in the tissue paper beautifully mimic the look of icy, frozen water!

  7. Bonus Step #2: Print your own set of cardboard building challenge dice or cards

    To help you turn this into a winter STEAM challenge, we included 3 patterns for DIY dice and cards you can use for building prompts. Just download and print!
    The challenge dice pages of our cardboard structure design kit for kids on an unfinished wood background.
    I’ve pre-designed prompts, but you can also use our blank templates to fill in your own.

  8. Cut out and glue your dice together

    Cut out your dice templates with scissors, fold, and glue or tape together, then roll for a challenge!
    Bonus step #2: Put together your own set of building challenge dice

It would make a wonderful class project, with collections that could be displayed at end-of-year shows and fairs.

One of our blue Norway-themed ice shanty sitting on a faux pond in front of a dark blue background with twinkle lights.

More ways to use your miniature ice houses for learning and play

There are so many ways these cardboard structures can be integrated into larger lessons for kids – from architecture to local historical research – even color theory!

  • DRAW YOUR OWN PLANS. Like a good recipe, a set of construction plans is vital for mini house-building success! I have virtual piles of marked-up PDF plans for the projects I share here that include hand-written measurements, edits, and notes. There are important lessons to be learned in drating a set of “dream” plans, then working through the adjustments needed to actually construct a project.
  • INCORPORATE ENGINEERING AND MATH CHALLENGES. While putting together the plans for these, I was struck by the fact that I was happily utilizing math concepts I had *never once* enjoyed (or fully grasped) in grade school. Each of these building forms presents its own unique set of problems to puzzle out. The Quonset hut, for instance, requires a bit of geometry (hint: A = π r) to determine the length of cardboard needed for the roof, and the A-Frame is a great way to work in some angle work.
  • BUILD AN ICE FISHING VILLAGE WITH FRIENDS. Two heads are better than one! Kids can problem-solve together, share inspiration. Even just having a partner to hold onto pieces is helpful!
  • MAKE A NORTHERN SMALL WORLD. Turn your cardboard ice shanty into a dreamy northern winter miniature playscape by adding a miniature frozen lake for fishing as we did, some litte DIY cardboard pine trees, a few DIY peg people, and maybe even some wintry woodland animals.
  • REPURPOSE YOUR MINIATURE ICE SHANTIES FOR OTHER SEASONS. These little houses don’t have to be strictly for winter play. You can redecorate your shanties to create a seaside town in spring, your own mini Olympic village, or a cozy fall campsite.
Our cardboard quonset hut ice house sitting on a faux pond.

Variations for STEAM-building at any age

One of the things I love about this project is its VERSATILITY. There are countless ways to revise this activity, making it appropriate for artists and builders of any age or skill level.

  • START SMALLER AND SIMPLER. By design, this kids project requires quite a few steps and challenges critical-thinking skills. If you’re looking for a building activity that takes less prep time and starts at square one (literally!) try these sugar cube ice castles instead! Or take a few steps out of the equation by beginning with a cardboard box as we did for our shoebox house and cardboard box city.
  • FOCUS ON DECORATION. Trying this out with younger children, or think your kiddo might get a bit overwhelmed by the builds? Present a pre-built cardboard ice house with a selection of paints and other art supplies for a fun 3D process art project.
  • USE CARDSTOCK INSTEAD OF CARDBOARD. Though paper houses aren’t quite as sturdy for long-term play, they may be easier for kids to cut out, fold, and assemble themselves. And you can swap the hot glue gun for clear tape. Just keep in mind: you may want to color and decorate your houses before you assemble them if you’ll be adding lots of paint or handdrawn details.
  • BREAK UP THE STEPS. This is a great project to break into steps that can be completed over a series of days. Rather than trying to complete a house all in one day, some kids might prefer to break it up. If the build starts to feel a bit overwhelming or patience is running thin, simply work to a reasonable stopping point, set it aside, and come back for more later!
Four of our small cardboard structures sitting on a white background with cardboard trees.

Tag your ice shanties with #cardboardhousechallenge and #100littlehomes on social media to share your mini builds with the community!

If these cardboard houses set your heart a-flutter, you might also like our artist-inspired cardboard building block castles, cardboard city neighborhood project, upcycled toadstool gnome home, or recycled pet play tank (a great way to use up a cardboard box!). Be sure to check out our 100 Little Homes STEAM-Building Challenge as well!

One of our red cardboard ice shanties sitting on a faux pond in front of a dark blue background with twinkle lights.

*A note about affiliate links: We strive to use simple, earth-friendly supplies that can be purchased locally whenever we can, but sometimes we find the best universally available options, a rare eco-friendly find, or a niche product only available on Amazon, Etsy, or Woodpeckers Crafts. When included in our supply list, these products are affiliate links, and if you click through to make a purchase we receive a small commission that helps us re-order these supplies!

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Amanda E.

With a passion for cultivating imagination, Amanda aims to help kids and families discover their creative potential through art, play, adventure, activism, conservancy, and community. Amanda has a background in graphic design, environmental design, and art curation. When not playing with ideas and designs for barley & birch, she enjoys working in freelance design, art, and illustration.

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