Make: A DIY Thin Ice Game

Did you play thin ice when you were little?? It was such a simple game, but so much fun! We’re celebrating 90s Week and when looking for some game inspiration, I ran across a picture and thought, “I could make that!” Amazingly, I already had everything I needed to make my own version of a thin ice game, and you probably do too…

Our DIY thin ice game standing in front of a yellow background.

If you don’t know or don’t remember, the game was played by placing small-water covered marbles on a paper towel-like piece of “ice” one by one until the water soaked through and broke the ice. The person who put the last marble on without it breaking won the game. Fairly simple, right? But when you add tongs and use water beads, this game becomes an insanely fun sensory and STEM experiment for kids!

To make your own DIY thin ice game you’ll need:

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


  • Water beads (we used these from Amazon) marbles, or cooked tapiaco pearls
  • Cardboard (roughly 8″x8″)
  • A hot glue gun
  • An embroidery hoop
  • Paper towels
  • Small tongs
  • A couple of small bowls or plates
  • Water


  • Acrylic paint and a foam brush
  • A tablespoon of vegetable oil or similar if you’re making your own water beads

AN IMPORTANT SAFETY NOTE: Polymer water beads can pose a safety hazard to little ones or pets, so this activity isn’t recommended for kids under age 5. If you have pets at home, consider using cooked and dyed tapioca pearls instead. Scroll down for the instructions and a quick how-to video!

DIY Thin Ice Game Instructions:

  1. Cut six support legs out of scrap cardboard and paint

    Start by cutting 6 rectangles out of a piece of sturdy cardboard (mine measured 7″ long by 1.5″ wide) cut a notch into that top that’s about 1/2″ wide and 3/4″ deep. These are going to be the support legs the embroidery hoop rests in. You can make your legs taller if you want. I painted the sides with acrylic paint to give it a nice, finished look!
    Make a DIY thin ice game from simple supplies you already have! An awesome fine motor skill and sensory activity for kids!

  2. Glue support legs together in pairs as shown

    Each support leg is made by gluing 2 of the rectangles together lengthwise. Join at about a 45-degree angle as shown and glue together with a hot glue gun.
    Make a DIY thin ice game from simple supplies you already have! An awesome fine motor skill and sensory activity for kids!

  3. Create the “thin ice” by securing a piece of paper towel in an embroidery hoop and push into the cardboard legs

    Grab a piece of paper towel, and put it in an embroidery hoop (our hoop had an 8″ diameter). Trim the excess paper towel off and pop on the cardboard support legs. Place an empty bowl under your “ice” to catch the beads when it breaks.
    Make a DIY thin ice game from simple supplies you already have! An awesome fine motor skill and sensory activity for kids!

  4. Fill a bowl with water and water beads and set out a pair of tongs

    Put 1-2 cups of water beads into a bowl filled with water (you’ll want them to be wet) grab a pair of tongs, and you’re READY to PLAY!
    Make a DIY thin ice game from simple supplies you already have! An awesome fine motor skill and sensory activity for kids!

Moving the water beads with the tongs is a wonderfully fun way for kids to practice fine motor skills in a new way! The game itself is also a great STEM experience and beginners science experiment – teaching small lessons in mass, density, and gravity. Of course, the most exciting part is waiting for that fateful moment when the ice breaks and “plunk, plunk, plunk!” – all the water beads spill through the bottom!

A view of our DIY thin ice game from the top standing on a blue base.

Love this throwback game and can’t wait to share a few of your own childhood memories with your little? I’ve put together a round-up of some other classic 90’s games you can DIY!

Interested in trying some tapioca pearl taste-safe water beads instead of the polymer kind? A couple of things you should know…

  • Though these beads are taste-safe and don’t raise quite the same problems if ingested, they could still pose a risk for kids who aren’t yet chewing and may be tempted to put these in their mouths. They are not recommended for use with kids under 5.
  • These homemade water beads dry out fairly quickly and will begin to stick to the paper towels, so make sure you keep them submerged in a bowl of water while you play (you may also want to roll them in just a tiny bit of vegetable oil or similar).
  • Because the DIY kind is a food product, you won’t want to keep them for more than 48 hours. You can find the short list of supplies and easy step-by-step instructions (along with a link to the kind of tapioca pearls we used) in our full taste-safe DIY water beads tutorial, or watch the quick how-to video below!

*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 Blick Art Materials, 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!

Amanda Eldridge
Amanda Eldridge

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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