For many people across the country, the winter months bring a chill to the air and a white, even blanket of snow to cover the visual landscape. Although there are few things more beautiful than scenery covered with a layer of freshly fallen snow, the stark whiteness combined with cold temperatures leaves many of us longing for a much-needed splash of color. During these cold months indoors, your kids may be "chomping at the bit" for something to do, and with some very basic ingredients, supplies, and some crafting time, they can make a colorful ice sculpture that can be placed outdoors to provide a bright and cherry lift to the winter doldrums.
Prepare the work surface by covering it with a layer of old newspaper or a plastic drop cloth to help ease cleanup in the event of accidental spills. Since your child will be using colorants, have them dress in old clothing to avoid staining good clothing.
Prepare a spot in the freezer for the project. Make sure the cup you will be using as a mold will sit flat on the bottom of the freezer and that nothing can fall against or into the cup while the project is freezing.
Almost any size mold can be used. Keep in mind that the larger the mold, the more water it will hold, and the longer it will take for each layer of color to freeze before the next layer can be added. You can even use other items with interesting shapes as molds—use your imagination! Choose a wax coated drink cup or a Styrofoam cup.
To gauge how much water the mold will hold, have your child add plain tap water to the cup to within 1/2 inch of the top (to keep the colored water from spilling easily while moving the project back and forth from the freezer). Pour the water from the cup, in various amounts, into a selection of plastic containers (one for each color to be included in the final sculpture).
Have your child put on rubber gloves to keep any stray food coloring from staining his or her hands. Now have your child get creative in mixing colors. Using various food-coloring combinations (or small sprinkles of various flavors/colors or unsweetened drink mix), create a different color in each container of water. By mixing basic colors to make new colors, you can teach your child the basic properties of color—yellow and blue make green, yellow and red make orange, and so on. Add colorant just until the proper color is visible in the container (too much will make the color too dark and you won't be able to see the final color as clearly).
Once each color is mixed, your child can begin creating the ice sculpture. This process will be done in steps for each layer. For each layer, pour one of the colored water mixes carefully into the cup. Following each addition of colored water, carefully move the cup to the freezer and allow the water to freeze until firm. Once the colored water has frozen, you can remove the mold from the freezer, pour in the next contrasting color, and return the mold to the freezer to freeze the next layer. Repeat the process until all of the layers have been added and the entire sculpture is frozen solid. This process will produce a sculpture that can be placed on the snow on your lawn.
For a variation, you can also try making a hanging sculpture that can be hung from a tree in your yard. To make a hanging sculpture, begin the process by taking a length of string and soaking it in water (this will give the string some weight and keep it from floating when the colored water is added). Tie one end of the string around a 1-inch metal washer and place it in the bottom of the cup or container that will be used as a mold. With the washer sitting on the bottom of the mold, pull the string directly up from the middle until it is about one inch above the top of the mold opening. Tie the string around the middle of a pencil. The pencil will lie across the top of the container and help keep the string in the middle of the mold as the various layers of water are added and frozen. With each addition of colored water, re-center the string and let the sculpture layers freeze as directed above.
Now for the unveiling. Dress warmly and move outdoors to the location where you want to place the sculpture. If a Styrofoam cup was used, gently begin breaking away pieces of the cup (collecting the scraps in a bag for the garbage) until the entire cup has been removed. Then stand back and admire your child's colorful winter creation! If you decided to make a hanging sculpture, hold the string and remove the mold in a similar manner. Once the sculpture is free from the mold, find a low-hanging tree branch, tie the end of the string around the branch, stand back, and admire! A hanging sculpture will sway in the wind and the sun will glisten off the icy colors on a sunny day.
Remember, when placing the ice sculpture outdoors, choose a location where it will be visible to visitors as well as your family when leaving and returning to your home. Also remember that since there is colorant in the water; be sure to place the sculpture in a location where there is no danger of possible staining when the sculpture melts. Also be aware of any overhangs which may cause water to splash against the sculpture which could, in turn, cause the colored water to splash against other objects such as house siding, outdoor furniture, etc. In a pinch, an old white towel folded a number of times and placed on a Styrofoam plate or aluminum pie plate will make a great stand for the sculpture. As the ice melts, the absorbent towel will catch the colored water and keep it from possibly staining concrete, pavement, or decking.
So when the weather turns cold and the bleak white snow covers everything you see, let your child add some color to the winter landscape with a piece of colorful ice sculpture!
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