Ice Lanterns – January STEAM Experiment

January 19, 2018
Written by:
Tasha Swearingen

Mixing science and technology with engineering (construction), art, and math is at the heart of STEAM experiments. Each month, we’re going to feature a  STEAM-based experiment or project you can do with your children. In each STEAM issue, we’ll talk about the science and the “why” behind the projects we present to you. So grab your supplies, and enjoy some scientific fun!

This Month’s Project: Ice Lanterns

Water comes to us in three stages: liquid, gas, or solid. As a liquid, we receive water from various sources, including indoor plumbing as well as lakes, ponds, rivers, and oceans. After the liquid has accumulated in one spot outside, the water molecules evaporate which you can actually observe at dawn, particularly if it’s foggy outside. Once it’s evaporated, water then comes together as condensation in the form of clouds. From there, precipitation (rain) recycles that same water back into the lakes, streams, ponds, and oceans from which it originated. This process is known as the water cycle.


To explore what happens to water as it changes from liquid to solid; to use observation, measurement, and communication skills to describe the change. In this activity, your children will observe water moving from a liquid state at the beginning of the project to a solid state (ice) by the end.


To create your ice lanterns, you’ll need:

  • One small plastic cup,
  • One large plastic cup,
  • Craft supplies (such as pom-poms, pipe cleaners, glitter, and anything else you’d like to decorate with),
  • Food coloring,
  • Water,
  • A battery-operated candle
  • Tape, and
  • Access to a freezer (unless it’s below 32 degrees outside; in that case, feel free to set up your lantern outside).


If you’re using pipe cleaners, twist a couple of them together and spiral them around the inside of the large cup. You should be able to arrange them in such a way that they’ll hold their shape on their own. Then, place pom-poms and other decorative items inside so they rest near the pipe cleaners. Gently place the small cup inside the larger cup and then add water to the space between the cups. Add a few drops of food coloring to the water and sprinkle some glitter in it for added decoration. At this point, you’ll want to keep the cups from moving, so you can use some tape to hold the two cups in place. Finally, place them into the freezer or set them outside if the weather will be below freezing. When you’re finished, you’ll have a lantern made of ice! You can place a battery-operated tealight “candle” inside so your lantern is functional.

We thought ice lanterns would be a fun way to kick off our STEAM-based experiments for 2018! To accompany this experiment, use our STEAM printable to help your child track what he or she learns from this experiment.

Investigation Questions:

  1. What did you observe about your setup before freezing? And then after freezing?
  2. How did the water behave when it changed from liquid to solid?
  3. Did the water weigh more when it changed to ice?
  4. How long did the ice lantern last after it was removed from the freezer? Was it kept at room temperature or another temperature? Experiment with this.

Other STEAM/STEM experiments to try:

  • Water experiments for kids – Looking for more ways to boost a unit study on the water cycle? Try some of the experiments listed here!
  • Water beats rock – In this experiment, children explore the ways in which weathering breaks down rocks.

Tasha Swearingen

Tasha is a homeschooling mom to 5 and has been homeschooling for 14 years. Currently, her children's ages span from toddler to young adult. Tasha has a Bachelor's of Science degree in Social Sciences from Florida State University and is working on her MBA through SNHU/Berklee School of Music.