Make: Stacked Ice Sculptures from Colorful Ice Blocks

Winter is a magical time of year, and what better way to embrace the cold than by creating your own ice sculptures and colored ice blocks? We’re calling these whimsical, wintry forms “Layer Cake” ice sculptures, and this DIY activity is perfect for kids of all ages (plus a wonderful way to get children excited about science and art!).

Whether you’ve tried similar activities before or are totally new to ice sculpting, this guide will walk you through the steps of creating beautiful and unique ice creations. So grab your gloves, scarves, and a warm drink, and let’s get started with our winter fun activity!

DIY ice sculptures sitting in the snow

This snowy day outdoor entertainment is not only a great way to keep the kids busy on a cold winter day, but it also teaches them about the properties of ice and how different substances can affect its color and shape.

A few of our DIY colored ice blocks laying in the snow

You can use these same simple ingredients to make your own brilliant DIY snow spray paint! Be sure to visit our BIG list of kids’ backyard winter play ideas for more outdoor winter activities.

To make your own DIY stacked ice sculptures 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.*

BASIC SUPPLIES:

  • Water
  • Food coloring (I used this gel food coloring for extra saturated colors)
  • Plastic or recycled containers, ice cube trays, beach toys, or similar to use for ice molds

OPTIONAL SUPPLIES:

  • Found nature supplies
  • Plastic spray bottles (like these) or condiment squeeze bottles (like these)
  • Rock salt

How to Make Stacked Ice Sculptures with Colored Ice Gems – DIY Instructions:

  1. Gather ice molds of various shapes and sizes

    One of the aspects that makes this activity fun is being able to build and rebuild different ice sculptures from a variety of shapes and sizes. I gathered some of our reusable plastic food storage containers – square, round, shallow, deep, small, large – the more varied the better – to use for our ice block molds.
    How to make stacked ice sculptures with kids - step one
    You don’t need a bunch of special molds. If you can put water in something and safely freeze it, it can become an ice mold, so look around at the items headed to your trash and recycling. Juice cartons, plastic take-out food containers, foil baking pans – they can all become ice block molds.

  2. Fill the molds with water and add food coloring

    Fill your molds with water and add a few drops of food coloring.
    How to make stacked ice sculptures with kids - step two

  3. Freeze your ice molds

    We were able to just take our containers right outside and put them on the porch. If it’s expected to be below 32 degrees Fahrenheit for a few days, you can take them right outside to freeze. If not, put your ice molds in the freezer.

    Smaller molds (ice cube tray-sized) may only need a few hours to freeze, while larger molds may take anywhere from 24-48 hours. Our larger ice blocks took 2 days to fully freeze outside in near-subzero temperatures, which was a surprise!

    How to make stacked ice sculptures with kids - step three

  4. Release your ice blocks from the molds and start building!

    You can run your ice molds under warm water for a few seconds to speed up their release. Now it’s time to start building!
    How to make stacked ice sculptures with kids - step four

And just like that, your family can spend a winter afternoon creating and recreating a backyard ice block sculpture garden!

One thing we noticed is that the colors looked different depending on how the pieces were stacked. The amount of sunshine and time of day also changed the colors and look of the sculptures. Definitely make a point to observe how your sculptures change hour by hour and day by day (especially if it snows again!). They are a kid-made art installation full of surprises!

Colorful kid-made ice sculptures covered in snow

A Few Tips for Making Outdoor Ice Sculptures with Kids

  • Don’t assume your ice blocks will completely freeze outside overnight. It has been frigid here at night (0-10 degrees Fahrenheit) so we were all a little surprised when our ice molds hadn’t completely frozen the next day. Our best scientific guess was that the thickness of the containers, the sizes of the molds, and how much food coloring we put in each container affected the freezing point.
  • Make sure kids stay fully accessorized while out in winter weather. Especially if you’re working with ice cube-sized blocks, be sure your little ones keep their gloves on as they make their sculptures. Trying to stack small cubes with big, heavy winter gloves on can be a pain, which is why we specifically chose to make slightly larger ice blocks.
  • Be prepared for the color to bleed onto clothes. Here’s an important heads-up for anyone who’s sending their kids out in new winter duds: To our surprise, despite the frigid temps, the colors from our ice blocks bled into the snow a bit and I later noticed small spots of color on my gloves. Food coloring (especially the saturated gel colors we used) can stain fabrics, and even when it’s cold outside, the warmth from our bodies will melt the ice blocks enough to cause the food coloring to rub off.
  • Use water-filled spray bottles to join ice block pieces. Looking to make a more permanent piece of winter land art? You can “glue” pieces together by using a spray bottle of water to spritz your ice blocks. Hold your pieces together for about 15 seconds as the water freezes and voila! I highly recommend using spray bottles or squeeze bottles with caps, as one thing you DON’T want is to have your kids drench themselves in water while outside in freezing temperatures. Spray bottles are an easy solution – they ensure that *just* enough water is used without the fear of a big wet (freezing cold!) spill.
A series of colorful ice sculptures arranged in the snow

Using your colored ice blocks for STEAM learning

  • Record ice block observations throughout the process. Do you notice the way the color separated from the water to make interesting patterns within some of our blocks? What happened there? Basically, the water froze from the outside in, pushing the dye toward the center. But the dye also has a lower freezing point than the water, so as the dye gets pushed toward the middle, it eventually gets freezes as well. There are quite a few surprises your kids will encounter throughout this project, so be sure to have them make guesses about what will happen and record the results.
  • Experiment with freezing your ice gems in different areas.
  • Try different methods of adding color. What happens if you use natural food colorings, or try standard water-based food coloring instead of the gel we used?
  • Mix a little oil into one of your ice molds before freezing. As a cool ice block experiment, add a teaspoon or two of vegetable oil to your water before adding color. Give your mixture a good stir and then freeze. What do you observe while mixing the water? What happens to the color and oil as the ice blocks freeze? Does it take a longer or shorter time for the ice block to freeze?
A few of our DIY colored ice blocks laying in the snow

Other ideas for creative kids’ ice sculpture-making

  • Get creative with DIY ice molds. Create flat, shallow sheets of ice by freezing water in trays. Use rubber gloves, cone-shaped molds, etc. 
  • Play with color. Spray or brush different colors of dyed water onto the ice blocks
  • Carve with salt or warm water. Sprinkle with salt or warm water to create interesting textures and carve interesting lines and patterns into your ice sculptures.
  • Freeze found nature items in your ice blocks. Gather items like small sprigs from trees, berries, etc. from the yard to freeze in your molds. You could also use different colors of smaller ice cubes. Or cut up fruits, pinecones, nuts, and seeds.
  • Create a kids’ ice sculpture garden along a shoveled path.
DIY ice sculptures sitting in the snow

More ways to use your colored ice gems for winter play

  • Use your colored ice blocks for an outdoor winter scavenger hunt. Instead of sculpting with your bright icy blocks, use them for a backyard winter scavenger hunt! Pile your ice gems into a sled and hide them all around your yard (or invite your kids to hide them for each other!). Search for the full rainbow, or send kids racing for one specific color at a time.
  • Create colorful ice block luminarias. When filling your ice block molds with water, put a plastic cup or bowl in the center, fill with water, and freeze. This will create a hollow area where you can put a flameless tea light or string of lights to create gorgeous and colorful ice block luminarias.
  • Tower-building contest. Put your family’s stacking skills to the test with a timed ice block tower-building contest.
  • Line a shoveled path to create backyard roads. Create a miniature town in your backyard with shoveled paths lined with colored ice blocks. Or use specific colors of ice blocks to call out “neighborhood” locations like a home, grocery store, the hospital, fire station, etc.
  • Take your colorful ice gems indoors for sensory play. The fun doesn’t have to end when the chill sets in…grab a tray and bring your colored ice blocks inside for some cozy sensory play. Eyedroppers filled with warm water, bowls of salt, and paintbrushes loaded with tempera paint provide a fun way for kids to continue their icy exploration.
  • Freeze a collection of items in the ice blocks for a chilly game of I-Spy. Grab a handful of small toys, junk drawer finds, or similar trinkets, making a list of all the items. Freeze them in your ice molds and invite kids to play a good old-fashioned game of I-Spy.

I’m a big advocate for getting kids outside in the winter, but it’s just as important to keep a stash of ideas for inside winter play. For a few of our favorite indoor snow activities, visit our cut-paper snowflake suncatchers post or try making a moveable cardboard snowplow. Or bring a little of the outdoors inside with a mini winter sensory garden.

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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