Real-Life Ice Blocks for Outdoor Minecraft

By Lisa Caplan, Toca Magazine Writer

Up north here in Montreal, Canada we’ve noticed winter has become a warmer, shorter season and we don’t get as much snow, especially not the kind that’s ideal for making snowmen and building snow forts. My son’s fifth-grade teacher had a great idea that had her class — and in short order the whole school — outside last winter not just playing but creating virtual winter worlds in which to enact all sorts of imaginary scenarios.

Cashing in on the popularity of video games like Minecraft she sent a letter home with specific instructions for every family. While perhaps not unique, her idea was certainly inspired and I’d like to share it with you here. If you have a large family or network of friends with kids you can turn a park or lawn into something cars slow down to check out, and if you only have your family you can use the same method to build on a smaller scale.

  • Category: Active Play
  • Target age: 4 and up
  • Skill level: Beginner
  • Materials: Stuff you probably have at home
  • Prep time: You’ll need two days for this project, although preparation is quick and easy.

What You’ll Need

  • Rectangular cardboard milk and juice cartons in various sizes
  • Food coloring
  • Fresh sticky snow or sand
  • An open outdoor space
  • Weather below 32 degrees F (0 C)
  • Room in your freezer
  • Square or rectangular ice cube trays (optional)


The Activity


  • Carefully but quickly wash out your cartons. Don’t overdo it though or the cardboard will dissolve.
  • Fill containers with tap water.
  • Add different shades of food coloring into different cartons and shake.
  • Fold the open end of the carton so that it’s closed and makes a flat surface and tape it with duct tape so water doesn’t drip (you can use cellophane wrap to make sure there are no leaks and your cartons maintain their shape).
  • Place cartons in the freezer for approximately 24 hours for a 2-liter container or until you can tell by touch the contents are frozen solid.

Building Day Setup

  • When you and your friends have made enough bricks, take them outside right away so they don’t start to melt.
  • Bring a recycling bin with you and start unpeeling the cardboard to reveal your colored ice bricks.
  • TIP: Make sure to place the bricks on light powdery snow or a large piece of cardboard with space between them so they don’t attach themselves to one another before you are ready.


  • Once all your bricks are visible it’s time to start building. You can meticulously plan what you want to craft ahead of time and estimate how many bricks in each color you will need to make something specific, or just place your frozen ersatz LEGO blocks randomly, designing as you go. The goal is to play outside together using your imaginations to make something as unique as your family.
  • One key to successful building and minimizing frustration is having a good mortar substitute. The same type of snow that’s ideal for making snowballs can be used to hold your bricks together. If the snow isn’t the right consistency you can add a little warm water to it, or sprinkle a little sand on top of each brick to create some friction and grip. Once building is done, kids have a whole new landscape in which to let their imaginations run wild.
  • Do you live in a climate where snow doesn’t melt often in winter? If so you can turn your building day into a building season. Keep making bricks and continually add to your ice world over a period of several weeks until you have a massive and detailed structure or design. And take lots of pictures just in case Mother Nature springs an early spring on you!
  • NOTE: Making enough large bricks to craft a building kids can enter requires a lot of freezer space and depending on how old your kids are, some heavy lifting. If you have a big playgroup or class working together that doesn’t have to be an obstacle, but if you are working with only a few kids you can scale down the project by making small bricks out of square or rectangular ice cube trays. Of course if you live somewhere like here where it’s regularly well below freezing all the time, you can make as many bricks of any size as you like since the whole outdoors is pretty much one big freezer!

Watch EricksonFamily create an amazing ice fort in Finland:

About the Author

Lisa Caplan, Toca Magazine Writer

Parent to delightful 12-year-old son, Lisa loves finding new ways to playfully parent from her wheelchair, and when not parenting writes about technology.

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