Big, Bad, Porcelain Canvas

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In preparation for a recent trip to Boston, friends suggested that I stock up on new toys to entertain my child on the airplane.  So, along with purchasing a Mrs. Potato Head and an Elmo DVD (a moment of weakness for our almost-TV-free home that thankfully paid off), I found these great washable bathtub crayons in a local beauty supply store.

I knew these would be a hit after seeing our almost-2 year old “washing” the sides of the bathtub with bars of soap and sponges.  Drawing on the bath seemed to be a natural extension of that!

Obviously, this wasn’t a plane toy, but what better place to test out bathtub crayons (that are supposed to wash off, but do we know for sure?) than in a hotel bathtub?  You’re with me, right?  I wish I was able to capture the visuals a little better, but I was busy getting a little wet as my daughter drew and erased the drawings at least four times.  I usually refrain from drawing on my child’s pictures, but she asked me to make some stars, which she promptly filled with expressive marks.  And the good news is that in the end, it all cleaned up perfectly!

The best part of this activity, in my opinion, is extending the process of mark-making beyond the piece of paper or easel. This is one of those “thinking outside the box” activities that can help kids understand that there can be more than one way to do something.  Not to mention, a lot of joy can come from freely moving greasy crayons all over a huge porcelain canvas.

Exploring with Play Dough

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Got dough? Here are some ideas to get you started…

The possibilities are truly endless. At 16 months, it was enough for my daughter to just squish it and move balls of dough from one bowl to another. At 20 months, she wanted to cut it, so we introduced a safe wooden “knife” that we got for free from our local cupcake shop.  Lately, at almost 2 years, she likes to “cook” muffins and cookies and tacos, and I’m grateful to whoever makes play dishes, rolling pins, and cookie cutters!  I collect tools from everywhere: Melissa and Doug Shape Model and Mold comes with rolling pins and is fabulous, the Play Doh Fun Factory comes with cookie cutters and a spaghetti maker (much like a garlic press), and I source my own kitchen for straws, potato mashers, toothpicks, and popsicle sticks.

You can roll the dough into worms and balls, smoosh it and stamp it, and poke it with forks and straws.  If you want to help your child learn how to use scissors, roll out some worms and show them how to cut them with safety scissors. This is incredibly rewarding to kids who are frustrated by cutting paper, which is really not the easiest thing to do!

Sometimes we’ll roll it out on the counter, but  there’s always a little art table covered in Mexican oil cloth that’s ready to go at a moment’s notice.  You can pick up inexpensive plastic sheeting or oil cloth at your local hardware store.  My best advice, if you rarely play with play dough, is to just put it out with a bunch of tools, and see what happens.

Sticky, Gooey Play Dough

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I’m addicted to play dough. Playing with it, cutting it, rolling it, but especially making it.  Play dough is an excellent material for exploring a pliable 3-D media, and it has the potential to help a child exercise fine motor skills and develop their creative mind through play acting (i.e. making “cookies”).

When my daughter was 16 months we bought our first batch of play dough at Whole Foods.  It was awesome.  And expensive. And when the whole family came down with what felt like the swine flu just days after playing with the stuff, I knew I had to throw out the whole sad lot with the tissues and hand wipes.  It was painful to fork out more money for another round of dough, and then a friend asked why I wasn’t just making my own.  Right.  Excellent question. I was an art teacher, and why had I never made play dough?  Slightly embarrassed, I knew I had to set off and find a great recipe.

If you look around for play dough recipes you’ll find recipes that include everything from cornstarch to Kool Aid to peanut butter, but the one I’m sharing here is for the really good, traditional stuff.  The recipe comes from First Art: Art Experiences for Toddlers and Twos by MaryAnn F. Kohl, and it’s the only one I’ve used.  So, do let me know if you have one that trumps it, but I’ll stand by the quality of this dough.  The book, by the way, is fabulous, and I recommend it highly to anyone searching for excellent art activity ideas for little ones.

The Recipe

This will make enough dough for an entire preschool class.  I usually make 1/2 the recipe and it’s still plenty!  For two colors, divide the recipe in half.

  • 5 cups Water
  • 2 1/2 cups Salt — an entire container of Morton’s-style
  • 3 Tbsp Cream of tartar — this can be bought in bulk at Whole Foods, or found in the spice section of big grocery stores
  • Food Coloring: 1 tsp for pastel, 3 tbsp for vivid
  • 10 Tbsp Oil — I use Canola, but any veggie oil should work
  • 5 cups Flour

Combine the water, salt, cream of tartar and food coloring in a large saucepan on a low heat, and stir with a wooden spoon. As the mixture heats up, stir in the oil and then the flour.

Mix, until the dough comes away from the edges of the pan, starts looking dry, and it becomes difficult to move the spoon. Pinch a piece between two fingers…if it’s not sticky it’s done. Remove from heat. Cool until it can be handled.

Place on counter and knead 3-4 times. Store in an air tight container or large Ziplock bag.