Physical Development

Free the penguin! Investigating ice with a preschool child

A guest post by Daisy’s Dad

In recent weeks there’s been speculation about the likelihood of a chilly weather front reaching the UK, but freezing conditions have already taken hold in Daisy’s world.  This weekend, we had to free a penguin that had became trapped in the ice!

Messy activities with Daisy are usually the highlight of my weekend and this one did not disappoint.  The toy penguin in question came from the bottom drawer of our freezer. He’d been encased in a disc of ice by Mummy, to provide us with a fun weekend activity; we got the idea from Daisy’s childminder, who had set up this educational play activity for Daisy recently.

Mummy froze the penguin (one from Daisy’s burgeoning collection of toy animals) in a small food container, leaving a nice round chunk of ice to play with.

A toy penguin frozen in a circular block of ice, ready to be thawed out as a part of a child's messy play activity.

Ice Ice, Daisy

We placed the ice on a foil-covered tray, arranged our materials – toy tools, a bowl of warm water, several pouring containers, and old tea towels for spills – nearby and dressed Daisy in her painting overalls (to try and avoid a change of clothes afterwards).  Then we went about trying to liberate the flightless bird.

A toy penguin frozen in a circular block of ice, ready to be thawed out as a part of a child's messy play activity.

Along with the penguin, Mummy had frozen some glitter and bright, shiny decoupage shapes (stars and leaves) into the ice. Including these extras makes the activity more engaging, because your child can see when she/he is being successful with their attempts to melt the ice. Daisy was still a long way from revealing the penguin in the centre of the disc, but she could see that she was making progress when these smaller elements began to come loose.

Thaw point

Daisy enjoyed hammering and chipping at the ice with her plastic tools, especially her hammer, but she discovered that the most effective way to melt the ice was with warm water.

We tried dribbling the water on with a beaker cup, pouring it on with a toy watering can and then with a toy teapot.  Every now and again, we’d see if we could prize the toy away from the ice.  The activity held Daisy’s attention right through until the penguin made his escape.

A child trying to remove a toy penguin from a partially thawed block of ice, during a messy play activity.

Setting the (snow) scene

To get into the mood for this wintery activity, I set up a video to play on the TV in the background, called ‘8 hours of snow falling on lake with relaxing music’ (we only needed 20 minutes of it to cover the exercise!).

Long-form videos like these are abundant on YouTube: they use static camera angles, calming music (or just ambient environmental noise) and a loop of minimal action.  In this case, there is only the persistent snowfall, the eddying water and the occasional duck paddling around.

If you want something that has a little bit more action but that still avoids the attention-eroding effects of many popular YouTube videos, the BBC Earth and BBC Earth Unplugged channels offer a good selection of slow-paced long-form nature videos (including oceans, jungles and grasslands) that can accompany, but not intrude on, long periods of free play.

Granny Smith Says

  • If you want to treat your child to a new toy, then provided it’s small and robust (like a hardy model animal) this activity can be a fun way to present it to them; at the end of the activity, they get a new addition to their collection. Toy animals offer excellent early role play opportunities.
  • The water you use should be lukewarm (not even ‘hand hot’); it will still melt the ice.
  • This should go without saying, but do not freeze anything electronic, nor anything that has moving parts that might be damaged by the freezing process.

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