This is a fun and easy activity that you can do at home with your little chefs! It is so easy, in fact, that they will barely need your help. We do it at CEFA schools during the summer camps, and it is always one of our students’ favourites. All you need is 5 ingredients and a few Ziploc bags.

Best Ages for This Activity

Two to five, but younger children can also follow along with some help.

How to Make It

Ingredients (for two servings)

  • Ice (enough to fill half of a large freezer bag)
  • 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract if you want vanilla ice cream. Otherwise use the same quantity of chocolate syrup to make chocolate ice cream.
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 cup half and half cream (or one-part cream and one-part whole milk). If you don’t want to use cream, you can make it with only whole milk, although it won’t be as creamy.
  • ¼ cup salt (coarse salt is best but any salt is fine)
  • Freezer bags, large and small, one of each per child. Use freezer bags of good quality or the salt will mix into the ice cream and you will have to restart.

You Will Also Need 

  • A pair of gloves (or oven mitts) for each child as the ice is quite cold to the touch, especially once you add the salt to it.
  • Ice cream cones (these ones are easy for your child as they can stay standing while they decorate or you can use ice cream bowls)
  • Things to decorate the ice cream with. I know that sprinkles are not necessary, but they are magical! I have a drawer full of them at home, as we still to this day bake at least once a week, and it is an absolute pleasure to make things beautiful once they are baked. When I have to choose between practical and magical, I’m afraid I am the kind that always chooses magical. Here are some of my favourites to have at home:

Other tasty toppings you could add are:

  • Caramel syrup
  • Chocolate syrup
  • Fresh berries
  • Banana slices
  • Pineapple
  • Goji berries
  • Any fruit
  • Grate a small piece of chocolate on top to make chocolate curls (or use chocolate chips)

Let’s Get Started!

  • Give your child the small freezer bag
  • As you hold the bag, your child can pour the cup of cream, the sugar and the vanilla into the bag.
  • Seal the bag tightly and get any excess air out of it then set it aside. If you suspect your child will be quite vigorous with the bag (there’s shaking involved) double-bag it to prevent the salt from getting into the ice cream bag).
  • Give your child the large freezer bag
  • As you hold the bag, your child can fill half the bag with ice, and pour the salt into it as well.
  • Put the small bag with the cream mixture inside the large bag with the ice mixture
  • Fill the rest of the large bag with ice
  • Seal the large bag while your child puts gloves on and shakes the bag for 7 to 10 minutes (best to use a timer)
  • After 6 minutes, remove the small bag and rinse it in very cold water, including (and especially) near the opening, to make sure that all the salt is gone.
  • Carefully open the bag of ice cream, and mix with a spoon so it becomes less icy and more creamy

  • Pour the mixture into your small containers, cups or cones
  • Decorate with fruit, sprinkles, nuts, or anything your child loves. The decorating is just as exciting for them as the making
  • Your child can now proudly serve the ice cream they made to the whole family! What a wonderful way to contribute

Learning Opportunities

I love helping children learn to cook because it is a great life skill and an incredible way to contribute, to give of yourself to others, to do something for someone other than yourself, which children both love doing and need to do. Children will of course learn S.T.E.M. while trying this science experiment, including math as there is a lot of measuring (time, ingredients) involved. Shaking a bag vigorously for 10 minutes is also a good physical activity, a great arms workout, especially for little arms!

Questions you can ask your child during the experiment are:

  • What do you think happens to the cream once we make it cold by shaking it inside an ice bag?
  • How can salt make the ice colder?

I also love that this activity needs a lot of parental help (especially holding bags with liquid), so you get a good 20 minutes with your child, where you can share life stories, ask them about them, their plans, and get closer. You can ask, for example:

  • Who are you preparing ice cream scoops for?
  • What is your favourite flavour? What is theirs?
  • How will you decorate it? With sprinkles? With fruit? With gummy bears? (encourage them to be creative!)
  • Do you remember a time when we had ice cream as a family? What did you like about it? (you can also share your favourite ice cream family time from when you were a child)
  • Who else likes ice cream? (Grandma? Uncle? Friends from school?)

By doing this experiment mostly on their own, children can form many hypotheses of what will happen, why it will happen, what will happen next, etc. This is how they learn science. As they are following all the steps, they are learning sequencing, which is great for reading as well as math. Sealing the bags tightly, as well as scooping the ice and the ingredients, pouring the liquids, mixing, and all those actions are amazing for fine motor skills, which are essential for writing. Distributing the ice cream equally amongst all family members is also 1 to 1 correspondence – a math concept. It also works on the math concepts of estimating quantities, measuring, division, and many others.

Extended Learning Opportunities

Dramatic Arts: set up an ice cream truck, store or stand (you can make it out of cardboard if you wish, and paint it with your child)

Make ice cream out of play dough and decorate it, serve it, play pretend! (good for writing, math and dramatic play)

CEFA tip: Remember to let your child do as much of the process as they are capable of.

Things to Keep in Mind

  • You may have to take turns to shake the bag, as it gets quite cold. You can also try putting the bag with cream into a Tupperware with ice instead of a large freezer bag, but it may not be as effective.

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