Icy Monster Hands

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This not-too-spooky, icy sensory activity is a “cool” way to explore the early science concept of changes in states of matter. Your child will learn about the conditions that cause water to freeze, and then about the materials and situations that cause ice to melt. It’s great for developing focus along with open-ended play that can help your child become more independent, creative, and willing to experiment. 

What We’re Learning and Skills We’re Building

  • Changes in states of matter – liquid water changes into frozen water (ice) when it’s placed in cold temperatures; ice changes into liquid water when exposed to warmer temperatures
  • Experimentation – exploring which temperatures, tools, and environments work best for melting or breaking down ice
  • Sensory exploration – observing and touching the ice to learn about its characteristics (temperature, texture, state, etc.) 
  • Vocabulary – learning words such as “frozen,” “melting,” “cracking,” and “changing”


Optional Materials

  • Small plastic figurines, small toy animals, pom poms, etc. 
  • Spoons 
  • Paintbrush(es) (or old toothbrushes)
  • Additional bowls/cups filled with water of different temperatures
  • Salt 
  • Toy hammer 
  • Cooking thermometer

Setting Up

  1. (Optional) Insert small plastic figurines, toy animals, pom poms, or other small objects into the glove. 
  2. Fill the glove with cold water until it’s about ¾ full. Leave about 2” of the glove’s opening unfilled. (Optional: Add liquid watercolor paints or food coloring.)  
  3. Tie the glove shut as you would tie up a balloon. 
  4. Place the glove onto an art tray, a rimmed baking sheet, or a cake pan. Put it in the freezer and leave it there until the water is completely frozen (at least 4 hours or overnight). 
  5. Take the frozen “monster hand” out of the freezer and cut/peel the glove from the ice. 
  6. In small bowls/cups, mix together water and 5-10 drops of liquid watercolor paints or food coloring.

Exploring, Playing, and Learning

  1. Encourage your child to observe and touch the icy monster hand. Ask, “What does the ice feel like? Is it cold? Hard? How does it feel now compared to how it felt before it was frozen?” 
  2. Use the pipette(s) or the medicine dropper(s) to squeeze up the colorful water, then squirt it over the ice (spoons and paintbrushes can be used to add the water, too). After a few minutes, ask, “What’s happening to the ice as the water is squirted and poured over it?” Does it look different now than it did when it first came out of the freezer?”
  3. Introduce water of different temperatures and ask, “Which melts the ice the fastest?”
  4. As the ice continues to melt, experiment with sprinkling and rubbing salt over it. Use a toy hammer to crack it, paintbrushes or old toothbrushes to wear it down, and spoons to dig in it and extract the figurines or other objects. 
  5. Ask, “What do you see happening to the icy monster hand?” Introduce vocabulary words such as “frozen,” “melting,” “cracking,” or “changing.”

Further Exploration  

  • Leave one frozen hand outdoors. Note the local temperature and weather conditions. Ask, “What happens to the frozen hand? How long does it take for the ice to turn back into water?” Put a second frozen hand in the refrigerator and note the temperature inside. Ask, “How long does it take for the hand in the refrigerator to melt?” 
  • Have your child work on one of the hands using only water and the pipette(s) or the medicine dropper(s). Have them work on another hand using only salt, spoons, and other safe tools. Use a timer to see which technique breaks down the ice the fastest. 
  • Elementary-school-age children can use a cooking thermometer to check the temperature of the ice as it goes through different stages of melting along with the water that pools under the ice.
  • Learn more about states of matter from this video!