Flour and Water

table from above

We recently attended a back-to-school event at my daughter’s preschool, where her teacher shared a funny and inspiring story that involved a messy flour and water sensory activity. With my ears on the alert for fun and thoughtful creativity-builders, I knew immediately that this was something we had to try. It’s unbelievably simple and requires no art supplies…all you need is flour and water. It’s so straightforward, in fact, that I’m almost embarrassed it wasn’t already part of my repertoire. Strip your kids down and get ready for some messy flour fun. This activity is all about activating the senses, and will entertain your toddler or preschooler for a good long time. Guaranteed.

Before you get started, be prepared for a bit of mess, although nothing too cray-cray since it’s just flour and water. I set us up in the kitchen and placed the materials on a low table covered in oil cloth.

Our materials included a large mixing bowl, three little bowls, and a spoon. Two of the little bowls were half-full of flour, and the third was three quarters full of warm water. The large bowl was empty. Without giving her any directions, I merely placed the materials in front of my daughter and encouraged her exploration with comments such as “you’re dumping the flour in the large mixing bowl” and “what does the dough feel like in your hands?”

Pouring water with a spoon.

My daughter started by pouring all of the flour into the large bowl and mixing it dry. After playing with it for a bit, she requested more flour. I gave her two more bowls, one white and one wheat, and we talked about the differences for a moment before the scooping resumed.  After moving all of the flour into the large bowl, she scooped it all back up with her spoon and divided most of it up into the little bowls until they overflowed. At this point the water was still untouched, which really surprised me as I imagined she’d hastily dump the water in the large bowl in one big pour. Instead, she gently poured the water, spoonful by spoonful, into a small bowl of flour and mixed it in. And she was very careful to keep her hands clean throughout! No surprise there, as my child is obsessed with napkins and tidiness.

Hand mixing.

But as the activity escalated, one hand finally succumbed to hand mixing, and then the fun really began. She had a running commentary throughout the process that was fun to witness. I sounded something like this, “Now I’m mixing it with my hand. It’s like dough. I’m pouring more water in. I’m making bread dough. Can we make this in the bread maker?”

At the end of it all, she asked for a mid-day bath, and my trusty assistant/Mother-in-Law and I were more than happy to oblige.

More sensory ideas

  • Fill a tub with beans, rice, or sand. Offer your child small bowls and scoopers for filling and dumping.
  • Play with shaving cream.
  • Mix corn starch and water. What a strange feeling!
  • Play with ice cubes in a warm bath.
  • Shine a flashlight or experiment with a glow stick in a dark room.
  • Blow out candles.

Creative Cooking

rolling out dough

While the art world may dominate a large corner of the creativity market, creative activities can be found in just about any aspect of life. And the kitchen is a great example of this.  A couple days ago my daughter spotted the candy sprinkles that we used for her birthday cupcakes, and jumped up and down with enthusiasm to make cookies — the medium (in this case, sprinkles) inspired the following 1 1/2 hours of cookie making.

When I’m in the kitchen, she’s always involved in some way or another, from scooping granola into breakfast bowls to shucking corn. And this is great for her on many levels: she learns where her meals come from (and is now in the practice of encouraging everyone to thank her for her contributions to meals…she can be sassy!), she knows where everything lives in our kitchen, and she’s beginning to understand the properties of recipes and food. When we shuck corn, for example, she hands the cob off to me when she reaches the silk because it grosses her out. And when she pretends to make pancakes I hear her naming off the ingredients (“flour, baking powder, eggs…”).

Of all the things we make together, one of the best recipes for kid participation (in my life as a parent thus far) is pizza. Kids can roll the dough, sprinkle cheese, and choose their own toppings. And with that autonomy comes problem solving (figuring out how to roll out the dough to fit the pan or resolving an area of dough that has become too thin and breaks), exploration (working with pliable dough and experiencing the feeling of cheese as it falls from the hands), and creative thinking (making choices about what goes on the pizza). And the part of making pizza that’s especially creative is that you can easily improvise with the ingredients — one day it’s pineapple/olive and the next it’s feta/sausage/mushroom. One of my favorite food writers, New York Times columnist, Mark Bittman, is well known for improvising in the kitchen. I love his cookbooks, and always feel liberated from cooking conventions when he’s by my side.

While we’ve done this in our home kitchen, this would be a really fun activity to run in a preschool, afterschool program, or camp. Given that you have access to an oven, of course. I’ve made my own pizza dough, but excellent pre-made doughs are easily found in the fridge or freezer sections of many markets. If you happen to have a Trader Joe’s near you, they have three varieties, and they’re each $.99.  In my not-enough-time-to-clean-the-house life, this is the no-brainer way to go. When we make pizza together, I always make a big pie for the family while she makes her own mini pie that she’s always very proud of.

Steps

  1. Set up your cooking area. With kids, anticipation is everything. Get out the rolling pins (if you have a mini rolling pin, this is the time to use it), clean your work surface, grab some flour for dusting, and gather your ingredients. Set up a station for yourself, and one for each child.
  2. Ingredients: Your favorite cheese (pre-shredded if you’re short on time. We make a mozzarella/feta combo.), pizza sauce, and your child’s favorite toppings. I like to put all the toppings in little bowls — cooking shows have obviously played a role in this!
  3. Create! Roll out the dough. If your child isn’t old enough for this step, give them some dough to play with and squeeze. At two years old, my daughter gets the idea of rolling, but I still jump in to help her shape it into something edible. Spoon on some tomato sauce, place toppings, and sprinkle on the cheese.  Follow the directions on your dough package to see how long your pizza should cook.
  4. Eat. And enjoy the pride you see in your child’s face, as they enjoy their own homemade pizza.

Bon Appetite!

One Color at a Time

DSC_0452

I was talking to a friend at the park today about things that keep parents from setting their kids up with art projects.  The list isn’t too much of a surprise, and you might even have your own bullet points to add to this (please share if you do!):

  • The house/table/furniture could get messy.
  • Clothes will need to be changed, washed, or thrown out.
  • It requires too much facilitation.
  • I’ve seen shitmykidsruined.com, and there’s no way I’m allowing Sharpies in the house!
  • I just don’t have the patience for it.

Fair enough. Art projects are not for everyone, but after today’s convo I’m on a new mission to also share ideas that are easy on the parents’ will, time and emotions. In my own effort to tackle some of these issues, N’s little art table is always covered in plastic (our dining room table, pictured above, is an old high school table that came with expletives carved into its legs — so no worries there!), we have aprons for painting and cooking, paints and markers are usually washable, and messy projects are often taken outside.

A couple days ago we embarked on a little color-mixing activity that is SO surprisingly clean that my 2-year old asked, “Why is my hand not dirty? Is my hand dirty?” All you need are some squeezable paints (tempera or acrylic — makes no difference) and a zip-lock bag with a good seal. This last part is critical!

Steps

  1. Set out your materials: zip-lock bag and 2-3 paints
  2. Open the bag or have your child open the bag. My daughter wanted to hold the bag open.
  3. Squeeze ONE color into the bag. My daughter really wanted to do this step, so we traded bag for paint. This became an exercise in restraint (for her) when I found myself saying, “Just squeeze it a little bit…like toothpaste. Not too much.”)
  4. Zip the bag up
  5. Hand it to your child to experiment with, mush around, squeeze, etc.
  6. Once this has run its course, add another color and then zip it up again. I used this as an opportunity to teach color mixing by saying, “First we put blue in the bag. What color do you want to add next?  Okay, yellow. What color will we get when we mix blue with yellow?”
  7. Young children will be interested in the sensation of smooshing and mixing, and older children may be interested in “drawing” into the paint by pushing down on it against a hard surface like a table. We tried this, but it was a solitary sport for mom.

After playing with “clean” paint for a few minutes, N was jonesing to actually paint, so I carried the “one color at a time” idea over from the first project into what you see in the photo above. She picked the color she wanted to begin with (yellow), and then chose colors to add, one at a time.” The first painting was yellow/blue, and the second was yellow/blue/red.

After that, she was done.