Sunday, March 31, 2013

3-Layered Jell-o Eggs

{My Orange, Lime, and Cherry Jell-o Eggs}

According to my sister-in-law, Jill, "Jell-o tastes better in egg form." I'm taking this as a compliment as I was up late last night because I had this nutty idea to make three layers of Jell-o in my egg molds. Usually I make just one solid flavor, or two mixed together, as we often do when we make Jigglers. I couldn't really find satisfactory directions for how to do layered Jigglers online except for ones that included layers with whipped cream or yogurt like this one, which looks amazing, but was not what I had in mind. So, here is how I did it (and I am mainly writing this particular post for my own reference, but if it helps someone else out, then that is great, too). My experiment worked out, happily. I was only slightly disappointed because I had hoped the colors would be more vibrant. Perhaps next time, I will try this with different flavors or in a different order to see if what the results will be.

Ingredients:
  • 2 - 3 oz. package cherry gelatin (one was Jell-o brand the other was Kroger)
  • 2 - 0.3 oz. packages sugar free lime gelatin
  • 2 - 0.3 oz. packages sugar free orange gelatin
  • boiling water
  • ice cubes
  • cooking spray
Materials:
  • 2 - Jell-o Jiggler egg molds (each makes 6 eggs)
  • mixing bowl
  • spoon
  • tablespoon
  • 1 cup measuring cup
  • funnel
  • cake pan
Directions:
  1. Spray insides of egg molds with cooking spray. Snap molds together and set them in a cake pan.
  2. Dissolve 2 packages cherry gelatin in 1 1/4 cup boiling water. Stir completely, about 3 minutes. Then, using a tablespoon and a funnel, pour two tablespoons gelatin into each egg cup. Pour any remaining gelatin into a separate container. 
  3. Just slide the entire cake pan into the refrigerator to chill. I did this for about 45 minutes, which was probably 15-20 minutes longer than necessary, but since I forgot to do the quick-set directions, I didn't want to take any chances.
  4. Dissolve 2 packages sugar free lime gelatin in 1 cup boiling water and a few ice cubes (I used about 4). 
  5. Remove cake pan containing egg molds from refrigerator. Add 2 tablespoons lime gelatin to each egg cup using a funnel.
  6. Return to refrigerator and chill for at least 20-30 minutes.
  7. For the top layer, dissolve 2 packages of sugar free orange gelatin in 1 cup boiling water and a few ice cubes.
  8. Again, using the funnel and tablespoon, pour gelatin into egg molds to top them off. Pour remaining gelatin into the extra container. I found that this last layer was not quite 2 tablespoons per egg.
  9. Return molds to the refrigerator and allow to completely set up, about 3-4 hours. Enjoy!

My Parenting Kryptonite

Just in case you are wondering why I haven't been around as much lately, (not that I have ever been one of those amazing blogger types who posts every day... but I was on a nice roll until just recently) it is because the dreaded stomach flu has hit our house once again. It just seems to keep coming in waves. As soon as I think we are in the clear, and I have tidied and sanitized the house, it rears its ugly head once more and the battle resumes. It's not much of a battle, though. We're always on the losing side of things. As exhausting as this is, I am thankful for one thing: my awesome husband! Thankfully, Brett is much better equipped than I am to deal with the stomach flu. I think that this must be why God gives children two parents, so that one can take over when the other is incapacitated.

I'll spare you the disgusting details of what has transpired off and on over the past couple of weeks and just say that I can deal with most anything parenting dishes out at me, some things better than others, of course. There is one thing, however, that continues to be a disabling weakness for me: vomit. Ugh. I don't even like the word. I try so, so hard to be there for my little ones while they are getting sick, but it's difficult to even be in the same room with someone who is throwing up. Brett actually yelled at me to get out a few nights back while Mia, poor baby, was getting sick. I am all but useless when it comes to cleaning up vomit because I have such a sensitive gag reflex that I very nearly join in with sympathy to their plight.

This, folks, is my "parenting Kryptonite." So, now that you all know my weakness, I hope you will not send any sick children my way. I'd love to help you, but I'll be in the other room.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

25 Fun Things to Do with Food Coloring



Last month at a MOPS meeting, we were discussing activities to keep kids busy in order to beat those winter blahs. After ideas such as homemade play dough, snow paint, bathtub paints with shaving cream and food coloring were discussed, my friend Liz said, "I really need to invest in some food coloring because I don't own any!" And, I thought, Wow! What a great idea for a blog post! Everyone should have food coloring at home. It's very affordable. Last I saw, it was just $2.00 for a four-pack at Kroger. Now is the time to buy this since it will be on sale before Easter. Food coloring is also super versatile. Aside from dying Easter eggs, there are many, many fantastic, fun, kid-friendly things to do with it all year-round. Here are 25 projects that we have tried using liquid food coloring:

Painting Projects:
  1. Bubble Painting
  2. Condensed Milk Painting
  3. Corn Syrup Painting
  4. Dish Soap Painting
  5. Egg Yolk Painting 
  6. Shaving Cream Paintings like cupcakes, shamrocks, or rainbows or the Lorax Moustache on a Stick.
  7. Spin Art

Homemade Art Supplies:
  1. Basic Play Dough
  2. Bathtub Paint 
  3. Finger Paint
  4. Glitter Play Dough
  5. Oven Bake Clay
  6. Puffy Paint

Hands-On Activities:
  1. Coffee Filter Carnations
  2. Dyed Carnations
  3. Dyed Pasta for beads, crafts, sensory bins, etc.
  4. Dyed Rice for sensory bins, crafts, etc. 
  5. Fizzy Fun 
  6. Wave Bottle

Outdoor Fun:
  1. Sidewalk Chalk
  2. Sidewalk Painting
  3. Snow Painting

Someone's in the Kitchen with Mama:
  1. Rainbow Cupcakes
  2. St. Patrick's Day Cookies 
  3. Tie-Dyed Eggs


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Homemade Sidewalk Chalk Experiment #3

The third time's a charm, right? I think that I did, in fact, nail it this time. My first sidewalk chalk experiment was successful, but time-consuming due to the large size of the chalk. Also, I was concerned that the cost of the powdered tempera was a deterrent for some people. I wanted to find a more cost-effective solution that would also allow me to mix colors as I pleased. Then, I thought about the second experiment, and how it was good for color mixing, just not setting up as "chalk." I realized there must be a way to combine the Plaster of Paris from experiment #1 with the food colors from experiment #2 in order to get the best of both worlds. So, I looked online to see if anyone had done this before. Bingo! I found directions from this blogger, who also happened to share my dream of making shaped sidewalk chalks.

I used approximately 2 1/2 bags of Plaster of Paris mix. The box contained 4 bags and cost about $4 at Wal-mart. After two go-rounds, I made a total of 22 egg-shaped chalks, which works out to under 12 cents apiece if you are only taking into account the cost of Plaster of Paris. (I did not try to figure in the cost of food coloring. If you don't have some, get it because it is a super craft investment. Today, I saw that it was on sale at Kroger and 2 boxes were only $4.) This is comparable to the cost of store-bought sidewalk chalk, and this gives you the bonus of making it whatever shape you like! You can see that my egg-shaped chalks nest very nicely in a re-used egg carton. Wouldn't that make a cute gift for some of your favorite little people? So, now that I know how to make chalk with this method, I am way more excited by homemade chalk, and I can actually see myself doing this again and again.

{Homemade egg-shaped sidewalk chalk! Just in time for Easter!}


Materials:
  • molds (I used 2 Jell-o Jiggler egg-shaped molds.)
  • 1 cup Plaster of Paris
  • 3/4 cup water
  • container to mix in
  • spoon
  • funnel
  • food coloring
  • cake pan (optional)

Directions:
  1. In a container (preferably something you aren't worried about "ruining"), mix 1 cup Plaster of Paris with 3/4 cup water. Tip: I used an old margarine tub.
  2. Add several drops of food coloring. You can use any color or combination of colors that you like. For my first batch I used 15 drops of yellow. Stir until color is well blended.
  3. Snap together your egg-shaped molds (or whatever molds you have -- I have not tried it, but I am sure you could do this in muffin tins, cake pop pans, or even Dixie cups. Or try toilet paper tubes as I did in experiment #1.) Tip: If desired, set the molds in a cake pan or on a cookie sheet to help catch the inevitable drips and dribbles.
  4. Using a funnel, pour your Plaster mixture into the egg molds (or whatever mold you are using). Once filled, tap to get rid of air bubbles. I found that one batch filled about 3 and 1/2 of my egg cups. Tip: A skewer was occasionally helpful for getting some of the lumpier bits to pass through the funnel.
  5. Set aside to firm up. You can remove from the molds after 24 hours. Tip: I used a butter knife to help loosen up the edges of the molds in order to get them open. Then, let them continue to air-dry for about another 48 hours before using the sidewalk chalk.
  6. Repeat as desired. The first time I made these sidewalk chalks, I did three batches: yellow (15 drops), blue (15 drops), and green (15 drops). Once the molds were emptied and cleaned out, I made 3 more batches: orange (8 drops yellow + 7 drops red), red (20 drops), and neon purple (10 drops).
  7. Enjoy your shaped sidewalk chalk! Note: In the photo, you can sort of see how my original batches have some color that has sort of risen to the tops as they dried. I am not sure why, but I don't think if affects how well the chalk work. The colors appear to be distributed throughout the whole chalks, and more importantly, I tested these out and they work beautifully! Plus, they are not dusty.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Basic Homemade Play Dough

We make a lot of play dough at our house. It's great stuff and I very much prefer it to store-bought play dough. My Little Man really loves homemade play dough, and he will spend an hour or more at a stretch playing with it. He also likes to help out in the kitchen, so this is a good activity that we can do together. Since his big sissy is sick and had to stay home from school today, I decided we should make a couple of batches of basic play dough for gift giving. He enjoyed helping me pour the ingredients, and once the play dough was packaged up, he got out our most recent batch of Kool-Aid* Play Dough and continued with the quiet play. (The quiet part was pretty important since Mia had fallen asleep on the sofa, and after getting sick several times during the night, I thought that she really needed some uninterrupted sleep.) But, I'm getting off topic.

The point is that play dough is super easy and quick to make at home with a few basic kitchen ingredients. The only item you may not necessarily have on hand is cream of tartar, which you can find in the spice aisle of your local grocery store for under $5. I recently decided to see how far one canister of cream of tartar will go, so I have been making tally marks on it each time we make a batch of play dough. I have used a few different recipes, each of which calls for varying amounts of cream of tartar, so it is hard to say how many total batches you could for sure get. I am up to 5 batches so far and there is about 1/3 of the canister remaining. I think that is pretty reasonable. I've lost track of where I originally found this recipe, but it's a good basic one.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 2 Tbs. cream of tartar
  • 1 cup water
  • food coloring
  • 1 Tbs. cooking oil

Directions:
  1. Mix the dry ingredients in a pan. Kids can help pour or measure and pour, depending on their age and ability.
  2. Mix the desired amount of food coloring in with a cup of water* and add to the pan along with the oil. Kids can also help with this step. (Note: Being hopeful that we will be having spring weather very soon, I used our bottles of left over snow paint for this, blue for the first batch, and green for the second. Then, I decided to add about 5 additional drops of food coloring per batch.)
  3. Cook the mixture on medium heat until a ball forms. Spoon the play dough out onto a counter top to cool. Tip: Waxed paper helps keep your counter from getting sticky or stained, so you may want to tear off a piece and place it on the counter first.
  4. Once the play dough has cooled, knead it until it is soft and pliable. *If you want, you can also choose to add the food coloring during this step instead of step 2 along with the water.* Both ways work, but the advantage of adding it along with the water is that it is less likely to stain your hands. The advantage of adding it later is that you can add just a small amount at first, and then add more until you get the color saturation you are looking for, which is a little harder to do when you are diluting it in water.
  5. Play dough will keep for several weeks in an airtight container. Tip: My current favorite storage containers are left over peanut butter jars. Cool Whip tubs also work, or you can use zippered baggies.

 A Few Notes on Homemade Play Dough:
  • Although play dough is non-toxic, you should watch kids to make sure they do not eat it. I don't think they would eat too much, however, as it is quite salty.
  • Keep this play dough away from pets. Trust me, our dog has eaten enough of it for me to tell you that the salt content will always make them sick. While this isn't harmful in the long run, it's no fun to be cleaning up vomit.
  • If you're worried about messes, you can have kids play with the play dough on wax paper, cutting boards, or vinyl place mats or tablecloths.
  • You do not need to buy any special play dough tools. Kitchen forks, spoons, and butter knives are all fun to play with. Rolling pins and cookie cutters are a perennial favorite at our house. My kids also like those little tracers/stencils that they get as party favors. We also use kitchen toys like pastry cutter, pizza cutter, and a little muffin tin. They also enjoy making impressions with things like bottle caps and toys (You only have to worry about play dough getting caught in things like Hot Wheels tires, but it's not really a big deal. It eventually dries and falls out or can be picked out.) We even have a few sandbox toys that have made it in with our play dough toys. So, really just about any thing you or your kids can think of could potentially be a play dough tool.
  • If you don't have cream of tartar, or you don't want to buy it, here is another recipe that we have used, which calls for powdered alum instead. (Again, you would find that in the spice aisle.)
  • If you want your play dough to have a little extra something, try making glitter play dough.
  • If you want play dough that smells fantastic or has has vibrant color without the addition of food coloring, try Kool-Aid* play dough.
  • Homemade play dough makes a terrific gift! I just package it up in one of my old peanut butter jars, print off the recipe (all of which I have saved in Microsoft Word, so that I can get three per page), trim it down with my paper trimmer, and adhere it to the jar using clear Con-tact paper. I make sure that the recipe covers up that last bit of sticky label residue that never wants to come off without more elbow grease than I am willing to employ. Then, for a little something extra, I tie on some inexpensive plastic cookie cutters. I recently found packages four spring-shaped cookie cutters for $1 in the impulse buy section of Target, so I bought several of them and set them aside for gifts. In the past, I have found 6-packs of plastic cookie cutters at Dollar Tree, so I also check for them whenever I am there.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Condensed Milk Painting

Yesterday, we tried out some condensed milk paintings. I saw this idea on Pinterest, but it comes from ECE Made Easy. I think we have tried making our own paints with just about everything that I have heard of, so we definitely had to give this one a whirl. I am so glad we did! It was lots of fun and we ended up with some neat results. They started off trying out different sized paintbrushes, including foam, and regular bristle brushes, and quickly switched over the finger painting, which is when things got really exciting. Mia came up with a paint dribble technique reminiscent of Jackson Pollack. And Logan, eventually learned that when he mixed all the colors together, it produced black. This paint produces colors that are glossy and vibrant. They are also very 3-dimensional, sitting well off of the paper's surface. All of these characteristics, reminded me quite a bit of when we did corn syrup paintings.

Even though it was messy to do, the condensed milk cleaned up easily with a damp washcloth (for the kids) and a damp sponge (for the table). So, please don't let the mess factor frighten you. This was pretty affordable. I only needed to purchase condensed milk, which was about $1.60 for the can. We ended up with 10 or 11 paintings total, and there was still some paint left, although as I mentioned Logan's had been mixed to the point of muddiness. Unfortunately, like the corn syrup paintings, since they are made from food, I don't see them lasting long term. Some of the paint was applied quite thickly, so it had to dry overnight. Now, it appears to have small white spots all over, which may be mold. However, it was a cool experience to do with young kids! I would recommend that you do it for the process, not the product.


{Condensed Milk Painting by Mia, Age 6}
Materials:
{The "Palette"}
  • can of condensed milk
  • food coloring
  • mini muffin tins
  • spoons for mixing (1 per color)
  • paper
  • paintbrushes (optional)
  • vinyl tablecloth or something else to protect work surface
  • old clothes/smocks are suggested
  • cookie sheets (optional) 

Directions:
  1. This is a messy project, so protect your work surface and make sure the kiddos are wearing old clothing or paint smocks. Mine wear designated "smocks" which are just old t-shirts of mine whenever we do stuff like this. Also, you may want to have a damp cloth on hand for cleaning children and a damp sponge for cleaning your table.
  2. Pour some condensed milk into your containers. We used 12-cup mini muffin tins, which worked very well. You could also use bowls, cups, plates, Styrofoam trays, or ice cube trays. Tip: If doing this with more than one child, make it easier on everyone and give each child his own container.  
  3. Add a few drops of food coloring to each container of condensed milk and mix it up. I used about 3 drops per muffin cup. Tip: I knew that I had to use separate spoons to avoid color contamination. So, to make it easier on myself, and to keep from going through all of the spoons in the house, I gave both kids the exact same colors and systematically mixed them one color at a time. So, I mixed red for one child and then used the same spoon to mix red for the other child. Then, I got a new spoon and mixed the blues, and then I got a new spoon to mix the greens, and so on. I still went through 12 spoons, but this was smarter than using 24 spoons!
  4. Give the kids some paper and paintbrushes and let them create. Or, if you are don't mind, let them paint with their hands. We tried using cardstock, finger paint paper, and construction paper. I think all of these papers worked fine, so you should be able to do this on most any type of paper that you have on hand, especially since you are doing this for the experience, not the final product. Tip: You can first lay the paper on a cookie sheet, if you want. It won't contain all of the mess, but it will help.
  5. Lay the paintings flat to dry. You should then be able to display them for a few days. Note: I am hoping to shellac a few to see if this will preserve them, but I don't know if it will work.

{Painting with a foam paintbrush}
{Perfecting her splatter technique}
{Condensed Milk Painting by Logan, Age 3}

Saturday, March 23, 2013

How to Dye Rice (for Crafts or Sensory Bins)

You may remember this recent post about how to make your own Seek 'n' Find Bottles. Well, here are some basic directions for dying rice to include in these activity bottles or to use in sensory bins. (I know, I know, I kind of put the cart before the horse, but what can I say? I was totally geeked to post the activity bottles! Anyway, now I am finally getting around to including the instructions to actually dye the rice.) I had never actually dyed rice until I heard about it at a MOPS meeting a few weeks ago, and now I am wondering why I had not done this sooner. I found these directions that we used from Totally Tots. Rice is super inexpensive, it absorbs food coloring and dries quickly, and oh my goodness -- do the kids ever love it! (Okay, honestly, you don't even need to color it. Kids will enjoy playing with plain old rice, but these directions are handy just in case you want to jazz it up a bit!)

{Rice Dyed with Neon Food Coloring}

Materials:
  • rice
  • food coloring
  • rubbing alcohol
  • bowls (one per color)
  • spoons for mixing (one per color)
  • measuring spoon (I used a teaspoon.)

Directions:
  1. Pour your rice into bowls, one per color of rice you wish to dye. The first time I did this, I used 4 bowls because I planned to make 4 different neon colors of rice. So I just took my 5 pound bag of rice and poured out what I thought were about equal amounts of rice into each bowl.
  2. Add a few drops of food coloring to each bowl. I used about 10 drops per bowl. You can always start with less and increase the amount as desired.
  3. Add a small amount of rubbing alcohol to the bowl, and stir to mix it all up. I used 1-2 teaspoons to get the desired effect I was after. Kids can help with the stirring. Why rubbing alcohol? Rubbing alcohol is the "magic" ingredient that makes the food coloring dry super fast. Really! I started the process while my Little Man watched an episode of Diego, and it was completely dry and ready for play by the time the show ended. Plus, once it evaporates, the smell dissipates and you are left with pretty rice that should be safe enough for little ones. Just make sure they are not eating huge quantities of it, and you should be fine. Note: This amounts of rubbing alcohol and food coloring will vary according to the amount of rice you are dying. The second time I did this, I only made 3 colors from a 5 pound bag of rice so it ended up being about 20 drops of food coloring per bowl and 3 teaspoons of rubbing alcohol.
  4. Once the rice dries, you can use it for crafts like the Seek 'n' Find Bottle or use it for a sensory bin. Plastic bins with lids are commonly used. However, I have been using a cake pan with my kiddos. I give them spoons, bowls, cups, empty cardboard tubes, empty plastic containers, and funnels for pouring and sifting. Little Man also likes to drive his cars, trucks, and construction vehicles through the rice and bulldoze trails. When not in use, I put the lid over the cake pan, keeping the toys and rice inside for the next time. If I need to use my cake pan for something else, I just wash it out and store the rice in a plastic baggie. I have done this both with and without a vinyl tablecloth underneath, but I don't think it makes too much difference. This is a kind of messy activity, so you have to be able to let go of that and roll with it. We pick up as much of the mess as I feel is worth it after each play session and the rest gets vacuumed up eventually.
{Little Man loves playing with the colored rice!}


Friday, March 22, 2013

DIY Scratchboard Art

Earlier this week, the Story Time activity was scratchboard art using store bought black scratchboard paper. Logan loved doing this, and it made me think about creating our own. I was sure that I had done this at some point in elementary school and thought that it involved liquid soap and black paint. Our story time lady, however, had no idea what I was talking about and responded with something about crayons and watercolors. No, I said, that would be crayon resists, which we have done before. This is not at all like that. I decided to check in one of my kids' art activity books, but it only suggested doing this with crayons: first a layer of colors on the paper, followed by a thick layer of black crayon. While I knew this would work since it was confirmed by Kristin, my sister-in-law who happens to be an elementary art teacher, this was not what I had in mind. It sounded too time-consuming to do it this way, and I knew Logan wouldn't stick with it. So, I consulted the internet to find a recipe for what I seemed to remember from long ago.

This is the closest I came, although this blogger said to use oil pastels, and I was really hoping that we could get away with crayons, which are less expensive, and something I already have in the house. I am so thrilled to say that it worked! The other blogger said to use heavyweight paper, but she did not say why, so I decided to test this out with the four different types of paper that we had: 1) regular white printer paper 2) white cardstock 3) finger paint paper 4) construction paper. It turns out that the thicker paper just yields better results for the simple reason that it doesn't tear as readily when you get the stage of actually scratching it up plus it seems to hold a good thick layer of black scratchboard stuff better than thin paper. So, now we know the why. Also, the finger print paper worked miserably, not just because it was thin, but I think because it has a shiny surface, which made the colors quite dull. The clear winner in our tests was the cardstock, which not only was tough enough to hold up to some serious scratching, but it also had some of the most vibrant colors peeking through the scratch art. The runner up was construction paper. Printer paper was too flimsy to yield good results. I am assuming that watercolor paper or a nice heavyweight drawing paper would also work well, but I have not tested these since I didn't have them on hand.

This project requires a few steps and some wait time in between, therefore, we completed in stages over a two day period. It was totally worth the wait, though, so I would encourage others to try this at home. I am sure we will be doing this again. Some ideas I want to try out in the future include using white shirt cardboard in place of paper, keeping the background white (possibly for snowy scenes), and seeing what sort of difference oil pastels make. We have some Cray-Pas, which are like a mix between crayons and oil pastels around somewhere, too, so I don't see why we couldn't use those as well. I also think we should try this with some colored cardstock at some point, and again, we could leave the background plain.

{Our Scratchboard Art Family by Mia, Age 6}

Materials:
  • 1/4 cup dish soap (I used blue Dawn.)
  • 1/4 cup black tempera paint
  • bowl
  • heavy weight paper such as cardstock
  • paintbrush
  • cookie sheets (for drying space, and also for collecting scratch art messes)
  • wax paper or similar (optional)
  • scratch art tools
Directions: 
{Either end of the spoon will work!}
  1. Color over your entire paper using crayons, unless you want to leave it plain white. Remember to use a heavyweight paper such as cardstock for best results. Kids can do this part. I don't think you need to color heavily, just get the surface covered.
  2. In a bowl, mix together equal parts dish soap and black tempera paint. I think you can make any size batch you would like, but I started with 1/4 cup of each because that is the directions I found on the other blog. This turned out to be enough to cover 5 pieces of paper.
  3. Spread your paper/s onto a flat surface. Tip: I used cookie sheets covered with re-used cereal box liners for "wax paper." This was so that I could easily move them during the drying process if I needed the counter space.
  4. The next step is more for parents. Using a paintbrush, cover the entire surface of the paper/s with the dish soap/paint mixture and allow them to dry completely. This took about 1 to 1 1/2 hours depending on the paper used. Tip: A foam paintbrush worked well for this. It provided good coverage without leaving brush marks.
  5. Once the first coat is dry, you will need to apply a second, heavier coat of the dish soap/paint mixture and allow it to dry. Tip: This takes longer so depending on when you started, you may not be able to do the whole project in one day. We left ours to dry overnight.
  6. Now that you have made your own scratchboard art paper, you are ready to do some scratchboard art. If you want, you can cut the paper in half. We did hamburger folds and then cut the paper so that we ended up with 10 pieces instead of 5, which meant twice as many works of art could be created. Gather some tools for making marks. We tested out several household items including a pencil, fork, butter knife, spoon, paper clip, wooden skewer, toothpick, coin, ruler, and corn holder, but I am sure there are other things that I did not think to try. Obviously, you should not give sharp objects to very young children, so use your judgment here. Tip: Making the scratch art was a bit messy due to the flakes of black soap/paint mixture rubbing off. We had first taken our same pieces of cereal box "wax paper," folded over to the reverse side, and lined them on the cookie sheet to try to contain some of the mess. It didn't work perfectly, but it did keep it somewhat under control. Notes on Scratchboard Art Tools: One of the most effective tools we tried was the corn holder. Pencil worked decently provided it was on the thick paper. On the thinner paper, it just left pencil marks instead of scratch marks revealing color. A wooden skewer was a good scratch art tool. The toothpick broke, and thus was ineffective. The ruler was plastic, so it did not work well, but the edge of a metal ruler, should work. The eating utensils, fork, spoon, and butter knife, were all good tools and make very different kinds of marks. I liked the tiny wave pattern produced by scraping the blade of the knife along the paper. The paper clip did work, as well. You can make broader swipes with the curved tip, or separate it to make finer lines with one end of the metal.
{Here is a sampling of the tools used and types of marks created by them. Top: corn holder hash marks, spoon lines made with both ends of the spoon, paper clip squiggles. Center: pencil swirls and butter knife waves. Bottom: fork wavy lines and wooden skewer writing.}

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Dyed Pasta Beads: Speed-Dry Method

In the past, I used this method for dying pasta for bead crafts, and I still would do it this way in a pinch if I didn't have rubbing alcohol available. Recently, however, I found this way of doing it from Totally Tots. After dying pasta with rubbing alcohol, I have to say that the tremendous increase in the speed of drying outweighs the smell of the alcohol and the fact that you need to purchase it if you don't have it on hand. (Unlike vinegar, which is always readily available at our house. It has many, many practical uses, but that's a whole other post.) Rubbing alcohol is inexpensive and one bottle should last you quite awhile. The rubbing alcohol evaporates quickly, taking the yucky smell along with it, which I think makes it reasonably safe to have little ones use pasta that has been dyed with it. This is assuming that they are not allowed to consume large amounts of the pasta, which I am certain that no parent would find acceptable in the first place. 

You can dye any type of pasta, and you certainly don't need to use name brand. This is just what I happened to have. I have done this with bowties, corkscrews, tiny stars, and Ditalini to name a few. I like the Ditalini pasta because it is about the size and shape of pony beads, but costs a small fraction of what I would pay for actual beads. In the past, I have tried gel food coloring for dying, and I can say that liquid food coloring definitely works better. It is also very inexpensive, and most stores should even have it on sale right now since Easter is approaching. Liquid food coloring is versatile. You can mix your colors any way you want, or use them straight from the bottles. The neon colors, of course, are slightly more vibrant, however, there is not much of a difference between neon pink (on the right) and red (on the left). Also, blue and neon blue were only slightly more defined than pink and red.

{Dyed Pasta Beads -- shown while drying}

Materials:
  • zippered baggies (1 per color)
  • pasta (any kind with a hole will work for beads)
  • rubbing alcohol
  • food coloring
  • measuring spoon/s
  • flat surface for drying (cookie sheets work well)
  • wax paper or similar for covering cookie sheets (optional)
Directions:
  1. Separate the pasta into zippered baggies according to how many colors you would like to make. Tip: If you don't have any zippered baggies, you can also use regular plastic bags, but this could be messier, and I would not suggest having little helpers. (This is a good way to use up old bags that weren't too messy, but you still may not want to use them for foods that will be eaten. I like to wash and re-use my bags from other stuff, but that's just me. Once they have food coloring in them, I usually pitch them because it's not worth it to me to wash them again at that point.)
  2. Add a small amount of rubbing alcohol (I used a teaspoon) and a few drops of food coloring. A little goes a long way so start with just a couple drops, and then add more if you want.
  3. Close the bag, and shake to cover the pasta to the desired saturation.
  4. Once the pasta is coated with food coloring, open the bags and spread the pasta out to dry. Cookie sheets work for this but you could also use plates. Tip: I first covered mine with the empty baggies that come in cereal boxes, which I had removed and opened up to make flat sheets of very cheap "wax paper." This keeps the cookie sheets clean and helps make sure that no pasta sticks to it. It is not essential, but I find it to be convenient for me.
  5. Let pasta dry completely. Ours took no more than 2 hours, I believe. Enjoy!
Some Uses for Dyed Pasta:
  • When letting kids work with pasta, you may want to first give them a cookie sheet to contain the beads since they often like to roll away and make a mess.
  • Make necklaces. I like to take a small piece of tape (Scotch or masking) and wrap one end of a piece of yarn so that it resembles the end of a shoe lace. This makes it easier for little hands to string the beads. Also, the prevent beads from slipping off one end, I suggest tying a bead onto the opposite end that you used the tape. You can always remove the bead later, if you leave a bit of extra yarn for knotting once the necklace is complete. This is an oldie but goodie Mother's Day gift idea.
  • Make bracelets. The simplest way to do this is the thread the beads onto a pipe cleaner, fit it to the child's wrist, and then twist off the ends. Cutting excess pipe cleaner is optional. You can always save the left over bits for other projects.
  • I have also packaged up some of the dyed pasta beads along with some pipe cleaners and prepped yarn for necklaces, and Mia has given this as a birthday gift to friends.
  • Make a spring Butterfly Garden Collage using dyed bowtie pasta butterflies and corkscrew pasta caterpillars. This is an idea for a Mother's Day gift.
  • Make a spring bouquet of Pasta Petals from dyed corkscrew pasta. This could also be a Mother's Day gift.
  • Make S'ghetti Skeletons for a Halloween craft.
  • Make Beaded Indian Corn Mosaics for another fall craft option. 
  • Use colored pasta in a plastic bin, cake pan, or similar container as a sensory bin. Kids can use bowls, spoons, cups, funnels, and their hands for scooping, pouring, and sorting the pasta. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Fizzy Fun

According to Pinterest, I saved this idea 32 weeks ago, and we just got around to trying it yesterday. I'm not sure why I waited so long. It is quick to prep for, doesn't require many materials, and I don't think it cost more than a few cents (except for purchasing some eye droppers, which I know will get plenty of use). I don't know if this activity counts as science or art, or both, but it was pretty fun for my little man. I guess you could even argue that this helps develop fine motor skills because he was concentrating very hard while working with the eye droppers. Dropping colored vinegar onto the baking soda elicited lots of "Wow" reactions for 15 minutes. Truthfully, I was hoping this would entertain him for a bit longer, but being a boy, he had to find out what would happen when he dumped ALL of the vinegar into the cake pan of baking soda. At that point, he exclaimed, "Whoa! That BIG bubble is so cool!" 


{Note the tongue sticking out, the sure sign that a kid is hard at work!}

Materials:
  • cake pan or clear glass baking dish
  • baking soda
  • vinegar
  • food coloring
  • muffin tin
  • eye droppers
  • tablecloth (optional)
  • towels/washcloths/paper towels, etc. for spills
Directions:
  1. Fill your cake pan or baking dish with a shallow layer of baking soda.
  2. Fill your muffin tin cups mostly full of vinegar. (We used a 6-cup mini muffin pan and I filled 5 of the 6 cups. The empty cup we used as a place for resting eye droppers.)
  3. Add a couple of drops of food coloring to each cup of vinegar. Stir to mix. I think I just used the eye droppers for this, but spoons work, too, of course.
  4. Let your child use eye droppers to drop the colored vinegar onto the baking soda for fizzy fun.
A Few Notes:
  • This is not a mess-free activity. We prepped by laying a vinyl tablecloth on the table. Then, we dressed Little Man in his paint shirt, an old t-shirt of mine that we close at the back of the neck with a clothespin. His hands got stained with the food coloring, which is not a big deal. It washes off eventually, but just be aware that this will almost certainly happen.
  • We had one eye dropper at home, and I think it was purchased from a natural foods store. The other four eye droppers I just purchased this week at our local small-town grocery store. They are smaller and I found them near the checkout along with other candy making supplies. The four-pack cost $2.99, which I felt was reasonable enough.
  • If you do not have food coloring, get some. It is very inexpensive, and you can do so many things with it. I recently found that the Kroger brand packages of four colors were on sale for $2.99. This is the time of year to find it on sale, with Easter on the way. I am planning to do a post soon about all of the different projects we have done using food coloring, so stay tuned for that.
  • Don't have eye droppers? Check your medicine cabinet. You might have a dosing syringe or something left over from some oral medication. Or, see what ever else you can find that will work, and feel free to share your thoughts.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Caterpillar Updates: Days 11-21

Here is the continuing story of our unexpected houseguest, Sara the cutworm. If you are missing something, these are my notes from days 1-4 and days 5-10. What started off as something that I was sure was doomed to failure is now something I have a huge personal investment and interest in, which oddly enough, is the welfare of an ugly brown caterpillar. Several uneventful days passed before we made it to a very BIG event. By now, I am really rooting for Sara, so I hope her metamorphosis goes well.

Day 11: 22 balls of frass, a personal best for Sara. "Sara is in her cottage." ~ Mia

Day 12: 18 balls of frass. Up until now, the number has kept growing. I wonder what is up? Not as much activity as before.

Day 13: 18 balls of frass again, and not much activity.

Day 14: NO frass, but she ate plenty of her lettuce leaf. Seems to be inactive. Then, when I give her a fresh leaf of lettuce, she perks up, does a victory lap around the jar, and then climbs UP the leaf and back down again. That's a new one. The kids were pretty excited by that behavior. "Her has a roller coaster!" ~ Logan

Day 15: I'm not sure if Sara ate anything. NO frass. Curled in a ball and not moving.

Day 16: Definitely eating, but still NO frass. Sara is curled in a ball again, but moves slightly when I gently blow on her. Decides to move when I give her a fresh piece of Romaine. Good to know she still has motivation to do something.

Day 17: Little movement until a new leaf is offered. Still eating but NO frass. How long can this thing go without pooping?

Day 18: Most activity we have seen in days. Sara gets very interested in her fresh Romaine. She does curl-ups for a couple of minutes, then rears up to eat. After eating, she starts doing laps. "It's wiggling like a worm!" ~ Mia  There is NO frass, but I have given up expecting to see any. Sara seems to want to climb the jar. Once she determines that she will not succeed at this she retreats to what Mia refers to as her "leaf tent."

Day 19: Sara is "playing dead." I blow on her to determine that she is, in fact, alive. I figure she is getting ready to make a big change, but still I figure it doesn't hurt to check. NO frass, obviously.

Day 20: Sara gave up eating today. Around 9 pm, I noticed things looked different and on closer inspection, there was long dark stuff in the jar. Brett said, "That's a lot of poop." I replied, "I don't think it's frass. I think it's skin. I can kind of see the shape of the prolegs." Then, I realize that Sara is no longer looking at all like herself. She has made herself a fresh green chrysalis on the bottom of the jar. As I watch, she squirms her "tail" end a couple of times, and I randomly wonder if we will finally get to see a molt. Of course, that is silly. It already happened. Darn thing. She did her final skin shed and nobody ever got to see it happen a single time. I am lucky to have seen a small portion of the chrysalis transformation, and I feel a bit sad that it happened after the kids were in bed. When I check again a couple of hours later, the chrysalis -- there is no doubt now that this is what it is -- has turned to more of a brown color.

{Early stages of chrysalis formation. To the right, you can see the final molt.}

Day 21: The chrysalis is a much darker shade of brown and it appears harder. There is a small band of green, where it almost looked like it is dried out and peeking through. I worry that the moth's wings will be deformed or that it will even die because it's not hanging from my lovely skewer "stick." I wonder how long Sara will stay in her chrysalis.

{Chrysalis next morning -- darker brown and more "dried out" looking}

Homemade Sidewalk Chalk Experiment #2 (FAIL)

Update: I see that this post is getting a lot of traffic, so I want everyone to know that this recipe does NOT work for making sidewalk chalk. It will produce sidewalk paint. If you are looking for a sidewalk chalk recipe that does work, I have found two: this one and this one. Thanks for visiting! I hope you find what you are looking for.

A few days ago, my sister-in-law, Kristin asked me if I had ever made homemade sidewalk chalk. Ironically, I was in the midst of waiting for my first batch to harden up, when she gave me a new recipe to try out. It sounded a lot like the sidewalk paint that we had made last spring so I was a bit skeptical that it would harden up and produce actual, usable chalk. Regardless, I figured it was worth a try. If it was successful, it would be a bit cheaper than my first recipe for sidewalk chalk, and it would be simpler to get more variety of colors with food coloring instead of powdered tempera paint. Plus, if it didn't work out, I would only be out a few cents and some time, so it wasn't a big deal.

When I tried it out, I first lined the tins with circles of wax paper that I had cut with scissors because I was afraid the chalk would stick. This turned out to be unnecessary I think. I had to wait a total of 5 days for it to dry out. On the second day, there was about 1/4" colored liquid on top of an "oobleck" type pseudo-solid. My skepticism continued. The day after that, there was less liquid, and it the stuff beneath it seemed firmer to the touch. So, my hopes were raised that this experiment would work. Then, the day after that, some of the "chalks" looked almost dry. After two more days, they all appeared to be dry, and they were starting to separate from the sides of the tins. The weird thing that my husband pointed out is that they appeared to be growing patches of green mold on top. Gross, right? However, I was cautiously optimistic that if I could just get them out unscathed, this could actually work. That was the dilemma. I decided to put an inch or so of hot water in my sink and then let the pan soak in it for 1 minute. Then, I used a butter knife to gently remove the chalks from the muffin tin. All but two made it through this process without disintegrating. However, the "chalk" felt very, very soft, so I doubted it would be usable.

{Homemade Sidewalk Paint -- BEFORE it dried into useless dust!}

I tentatively tried one or two "chalks" on a piece of paper and it immediately crumbled to bits. Figuring this for a lost cause, and a messy one at that, I gave Mia a cookie sheet and a piece of paper, so she could give the "chalk" a go. She ended up with a pile of pink "chalk" dust, which she enjoyed playing with, piling up, and smooshing back down, dragging it around the cookie sheet with her fingers until I decided enough was enough. She had pink "chalk" dust on her face and in her hair. I say "chalk" because it had turned out to be essentially colored corn starch after the water evaporated, not at all what I was hoping for, but truthfully, not an unexpected result. In the end, I don't feel that this is a failure because it didn't produce the desired effect. Really, I know that this will make perfectly good sidewalk paints, plus now I have the idea to do them in muffin tins instead of the glass jars we previously used, and this is definitely safer to do with kids.

{AFTER: Nothing more than colored cornstarch -- utterly useless as"sidewalk chalk!"}

The Bottom Line: If you decide to do this, choose a nice sunny day, and please know that you will be making sidewalk paints that need to be used immediately, NOT some sidewalk chalks. You will likely want to mix up your paints while you are outside, to keep spillage to a minimum. You will also need paintbrushes or sponging for painting the sidewalk.

{Here is my craft FAIL -- just in case you thought it never happens.}

Materials Needed to Make Sidewalk Paint (not chalk):
  • 12 cup muffin tin
  • 1 1/2 cups cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • container for mixing
  • spoon/s for mixing
  • food coloring
  • paint brushes or sponges
  • funnel (optional)
Directions:
  1. In a container, mix equal parts cornstarch and water. I used 1 1/2 cups of each, which will fill 12 muffin cups approximately half full. Divide into the muffin cups. Tip: A funnel is helpful for pouring.
  2. Add a few drops of food coloring to each muffin cup to get desired colors. I used no more than 3 drops per muffin cup. Tip: Food coloring may stain skin and clothing, so be mindful of this when using it.
  3. Mix up each color, and have kids paint on the sidewalk or driveway using paintbrushes or sponges. Tip: When we did this last year, we kept the paints in jars with lids, shook them up as needed, and re-used the paints.
  4. That's it. Enjoy your sidewalk paint. Don't bother waiting around for this recipe to harden up and produce "sidewalk chalk." You will just be disappointed.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Homemade Sidewalk Chalk Experiment #1

I am getting a bit of spring fever, feeling like winter definitely needs to finish up around these parts. So, when I found a recipe for sidewalk chalk on Pinterest, I decided I needed to try it out. Brett teased me when he saw this on my daily to-do list. "You can't make sidewalk chalk," he insisted. This just convinced me that I could and I would succeed at making some sidewalk chalk for the kids.

I had been saving TP tubes for awhile and I had powdered tempera paint already. I did need to purchase some Plaster of Paris, which I got at Wal-mart for around $4, so that wasn't a huge investment, especially considering I used only 1/4 of the box. We had masking tape at the ready, which just left one thing that stumped me: "greaseproof paper." What, I wondered, is the American equivalent of this? I decided that it would either have to be parchment paper or wax paper, and since parchment is wonderful for baking, and generally speaking, wax paper is something I would use more often for crafts, I went with wax paper. This seemed like the right choice. However, if I did this again, I would try duct tape in place of the masking tape so as to prevent leaks since I learned while doing this to not skimp on the masking tape.

{The Finished Sidewalk Chalk}

Materials:
  • toilet paper tubes
  • wax paper
  • tape (masking or duct)
  • 1 cup Plaster of Paris
  • 1 cup water
  • powdered tempera paint
  • funnel (optional, but definitely helpful)
  • container for mixing (preferably one you don't care about)
  • spoons (for mixing)
  • somewhere flat to let your chalk set up (I used a cake pan.)
Directions:
  1. Completely cover one end of an empty toilet paper tube with tape, making sure there are no openings. Tip: Masking tape works, but I am thinking duct tape will work even better for this.
  2. Line the inside of the tube with wax paper. Tip: I found that the best way to do this was to tear a piece of the wax paper so that it was slightly longer than the height of the tube, fold it into thirds, cut the wax paper into 3 pieces, and then roll one piece into a tube. I also added the leftover bits to the bottoms of the tubes, layering them on top of the tape. I don't think this is ideal, though, since some of the wax paper bits are still imbedded into the ends of the chalk.
  3. In a container, mix 1 cup of Plaster of Paris with 1 cup of water. Add the tempera paint and stir. The original directions suggested starting with 1 tablespoon, and adding more as needed. 
  4. Stand the tubes straight up, so that the tape side is down. (Tip: I did this in a cake pan, and I wished that I had first lined it with wax paper. Make sure that whatever container you choose will not be needed for several days.) Then, pour the mixture in, and tap to get rid of air bubbles. Tip: A funnel was very helpful for pouring.
  5. Now you will need to wait. After the Plaster of Paris mixture sets up a bit (I think this was a day or two), you can tear away the cardboard tube and wax paper to allow it to finish drying and hardening. This whole drying process took about 5 days. (Some notes on color mixing: I made a total of 6 chalks. Some were the size of the entire tube and some were a bit shorter due to leakage issues. The first one was pure red tempera paint, and I had added a total of 3 tablespoons to my Plaster of Paris mixture. Half of that was poured into one TP tube, and in the remaining batch, I added 2 tablespoons of blue powdered tempera paint. I mixed this up to make purple, which I poured into my second tube. Then, I washed out the container and mixed up a new batch of water/Plaster mixture, which I added 3 tablespoons of yellow paint to. Again, I poured half of this into a tube, and then added 2 tablespoons of red paint to the remainder, mixing up orange for my fourth tube. After that, I again washed my bowl, and started a final batch of Plaster mixture, to which I added 3 tablespoons of blue paint. The final chalk tube was made by adding 2 tablespoons of yellow paint to the remainder of the blue batch, so it, of course, made green chalk. In the end, I was happy with the color saturation.)
{This is what it looked like while the chalk was setting up.}

Is it worth it to make your own sidewalk chalk?
Honestly, I just wanted to know whether or not this would work. Considering you can purchase ready made chalk for about 10 cents a piece, and it comes in many, many colors, making it probably is not worth the effort for most people. It definitely was a time investment. We didn't just make the chalk and then play with it an hour later. It took several days to set up. Plus, there is cost associated with buying any materials you do not already have.

For me, this wasn't a big deal since it meant only buying the Plaster of Paris, which I knew would get used for other projects in the future. I got four jars of powdered tempera some months back on clearance at Michaels for 99 cents each. I think that was probably a steal at the time. However, if you don't have powdered tempera paint, it may not be worth it to you to invest in this, unless you know that you will use it for other things. (It's great for just mixing up small amounts when the kids want to paint, and you can get the consistency exactly the way that you want it to be.)

For this experiment, I used $1 worth of Plaster of Paris, and I made 6 chalks, so that works out to about 17 cents per chalk, more than what you would likely spend at the store for ready-made sidewalk chalk. However, it is worth noting, that the TP tube chalk is much larger, so it will last longer than store-bought sidewalk chalk, meaning it's not an equivalent comparison.

There are some definite pros to making this chalk that are worth mentioning. This chalk comes out rather large, so in addition to lasting a long time, it is also nice for little hands. There is also the possibility of making shaped chalks in molds, and I am planning to try this with our Jell-o egg molds at some point. The chalk is dry to the touch and quite dust-free, which means it isn't very messy. This is a huge bonus in an art supply. Also, the most important thing to mention, is that it does in fact work as a sidewalk chalk.

Generally speaking, I think homemade art supplies are worth the time and materials to make them. They are usually cheaper and work just as well or better than the store-bought variety. However, I don't think homemade sidewalk necessarily chalk fits into this belief for me. It was a good experiment, and I am glad I tried it so now I know. Other than wanting to possibly try again in some different molds, I don't believe I will be making too much more sidewalk chalk. The bottom line for me is that it is a time-consuming process and it requires space for drying that I don't really have in excess.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

St. Patrick's Day Cookies

Recently I was thumbing through old magazines my mom gave me and tearing out ideas for future use when I came across a simple idea and wondered why I had not done this before: adding food coloring to the sugar cookie dough before baking. I think this came out of a 2 year old issue of Better Homes & Gardens, but I am not sure anymore. Normally, I get out our ingredients, mix up the dough, roll out our dough, cut out the cookies, wash the blades to the hand mixer and other bowls and utensils while cookies are baking, and then start a whole new mess mixing up a batch of frosting, but this avoids all that extra work (not to mention extra sugar, which face it, nobody in this family really needs). Smart right? Since I had just gotten the shamrock cookie cutter, this seemed like a good time to try it out, using green food coloring, of course.


My little kitchen helper and I used this recipe for cut-out cookies, which is a buttery cookie that is easy to cut out.
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  1. Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Add the egg and vanilla extract and mix.
  2. In another bowl, stir the flour mixture, baking powder, and salt together. Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and blend until smooth.
  3. I separated the dough into two balls since we were planning to make neon green and regular green cookies.
  4. This is the point when we added food coloring. My little helper added much more then we needed, about 10 or maybe even 12 drops when 3 would have been fine. No big deal, though. Then, I used the hand mixer to combine it all again.
  5. Then, I wrapped both balls of dough in plastic wrap and chilled them in the freezer for 15 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  7. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to about 1/4 inch thickness. Cut out cookies and place on cookie sheet. (Tip: I like to cover mine with parchment paper first.) Add sugar sprinkles, if desired. We used green, and lots of them when my little man was in charge.
  8. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Let cool on wire racks. Makes about 2 dozen cut-out cookies.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Let Them Eat Pie

Today is Pi Day, as in that special number that we represent with  this cool symbol: π. Okay, I admittedly don't know much about pi other than it is 3.14somethingsomethingsomethingsomething... Well, you get the point. It goes on forever. However, it does not take a mathematical genius to figure out that today, March 14 (3/14), is the perfect occasion to eat pie. So, my math nerd husband made us this yummy strawberry pie for dessert. That made for one finger-licking good Pi Day celebration.


{Happy Pi Day, everyone!}

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Kool-Aid* Play Dough

I recently posted one of my favorite play dough recipes, glitter play dough, but I have to say that this recipe for "Kool-Aid" play dough is my current favorite. It smells wonderful and you don't need to add any food coloring since the color comes from the drink mix. I am calling it "Kool-Aid Play Dough" for simplicity sake, but I actually use generic store-brand drink mix packets to make our play dough since they are less expensive. This play dough is very easy to make, and it lasts for several weeks if kept in an airtight container. 

Homemade play dough also makes a great gift, especially if you add a recipe card and some inexpensive plastic cookie cutters. My latest method of including the recipe is to print it off (I first typed it to fit 3 per page in portrait page setting of Microsoft Word), trim it down, and then adhere it to the peanut butter jar with clear Con-tact paper. This also helps cover up that last little bit of sticky backing from the jar label that is tough to remove. I just found a four-pack of spring cookie cutters for $1 in the impulse-buy section of Target, so I purchased three packages to set aside for gift-giving. I have also found cookie cutters in six-packs at Dollar Tree, although not on recent trips. It's just something to keep in mind for future reference. Once you have them on hand, you can whip up a gift in just a few minutes time.

{Here are just 3 of the possible options: Pink Lemonade, Orange, and Grape. Note: The Pink Lemonade is not nearly as vivid as the other colors. Black Cherry also makes somewhat dull-colored play dough.}

Ingredients:

  • ½ Cup salt                           
  • 1 Cup flour                        
  • 2 tsp. cream of tartar        
  • 1 pkg. Kool-Aid*                  
  • 1 Tbs. cooking oil               
  • 1 Cup water               *I use generic drink mix packets.*
Directions:
  1. Mix dry ingredients. Add oil and water. Kids can help with this.
  2. Cook in a sauce pan on medium heat until a ball forms, stirring as needed.
  3. Set aside to cool, and then knead the play dough. Kids can help with this. Tip: Wax paper or a cutting board or place mat will protect your work surface from stains.
  4. Enjoy! Play dough will keep for several weeks in an airtight container. Tip: Cool Whip tubs, zippered baggies, and jars work well for this. My personal favorite are plastic peanut butter jars. Important Note about Homemade Play Dough: Although it is non-toxic, kids shouldn't eat it. It's very salty, so I'm not sure why they would want to, but it does happen. Tip: Personal experience has taught me to keep play dough away from pets as well. I can't tell you how many times our dog has eaten this and then gotten sick. It doesn't hurt her, of course, but it is a nuisance to have to clean up dog vomit while your kid is contentedly playing with his new batch of play dough.