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If you're looking for a Christmas craft that the kids can really get involved with, each step of the way, that has lots of different learning opportunities and has an end result you'll be happy to keep and display for years to come, then salt dough ornaments are your best bet. You can use cookie cutters to make them any shape you like and decorate them as brightly as your children desire or keep it simple with plain white paint and a tiny sprinkle of glitter. (Come on, it's Christmas!)
This is a two step activity - I usually start in the afternoon when tired or over active kids need a calming activity - mixing and working with the dough centres them and cutting out the shapes and transferring them to a baking tray seems to take just the right amount of time to wind them down before dinner. Once your salt dough has fully dried out in the oven and cooled down you can paint and decorate them - we usually do this the next day when we are all fresh and able to focus.
We have tried a lot of different salt dough recipes over the years and this is our favourite. It's not too sticky because of the mix of the fine table and rough cooking salt and the cream of tartar makes the dough a little bit more elastic and user friendly.
Here is how to make your own:
- 1 cup of plain white flour
- 1/2 cup of salt using a rough ratio of 3/4 table salt, 1/4 cooking salt
- 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar
- 1/4 to 1/3 cup of water
- rolling pin
- cookie cutters
- one paper straw for poking holes in the shapes before they dry - paper straws are great because they collect the dough, and the shape stays intact. Remember that the hole will close up a little in the oven so don't make it too small or else you will have trouble threading them to hang.
- baking paper and baking trays
- paint and glitter
- ribbon, string or pipe cleaners to hang
- mod podge (optional - will help seal when paint is dry to keep for years to come but is not essential)
I get my children to measure out the dry ingredients. It makes them feel like adults and really involved in the process but it's also a good opportunity to talk about maths and measuring, volume and counting and to develop their fine motor skills. I usually sweep any spills into the bowl too so nothing is wasted!
Once the dry ingredients are measured out, I add the wet - start with 1/4 cup of water but you might need to increase the amount as you mix the dough if it is a bit too crumbly and dry.
Mix in your bowl until the dough has formed and then turn out onto a lightly floured surface and get kneading! This is a great sensory activity for children and helps to strengthen the muscles in their hands, allowing them to develop the control needed for holding a pencil correctly.
When your dough feels well mixed and pliable, transfer onto a sheet of baking paper and roll it out with your rolling pin. We try to keep the dough around 0.5cms thick, if the shapes are very thick they will take a long time to dry out in the oven.
If you've cut out all your shapes and used up all your dough - we got 20 medium sized stars plus a little left over out of our batch of dough - then transfer them to the oven to dry. Make sure your oven is on a low heat, around 100 degrees, if it is too hot then your shapes will bubble as they dry.
Once cooled the shapes are ready to paint and decorate. When dry, thread with ribbon and hang on your christmas tree, make a long garland to hang on a wall or use them as gift tags on presents! We decided to use pipe cleaners to thread our decorations with and the boys loved that it was so easy for them thread through the holes and twist.