Celebrating Spring: Salt Dough Animal Impressions

Story telling has been an increasingly regular part of my curriculum. I use books as tools for communicating themes and abstract concepts that tie into the project of the day. Stories and illustrations help children tune in deeper and enable them to grasp ideas that they normally wouldn’t understand via dialogue. It can also help to bring the class together into a focused space. Spring Song, written by Barbara Seuling and illustrated Greg Newbold has beautifully painted pictures of animals and nature with simple text.
The Artful Parents post about nature sculpey prints was the catalyst for these salt dough impressions. Sculpey produces an impression with finer detail but seamed problematic because its very stiff at first and required a lot of adult participation. Salt dough is easy to make, inexpensive, and malleable enough for little hands to work with. There was definitely adult assistance, but for the most part students were excited and able to negotiate the materials.

We mixed a fresh batch of salt dough for each class and each student was allowed to measure a cup of flour, a cup of salt, or the correct portion of water. I mixed the salt dough with my hands but as soon as I was done kneading I divided up pieces for each student and encouraged them to keep working the dough until it was smooth and soft. Students under three years often needed assistance rolling their balls but most of my students enjoyed the challenge of rolling the dough in their palms or on the table.
Salt Dough Recipe

  • 4 cups of flour
  • 1 cup of salt
  • 1.5 cups of water
  • bake at 225 for 3 hours

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Depending on the size of the class each student made between 3-5 impressions. After they were done rolling their balls of dough they lightly pressed them into circular medallions with the palm of their hand. I had a basket full of small animal characters that reminded me of spring or were mentioned in the book, Spring Song. The assortment included: butterflies, ducks, chickens, lizards, rabbits, squirrels, deer, cat, turtles, fish, and frogs.
animal impressions10
We made sure to press deeply before pealing the animal out of the dough.
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We painted directly on the uncooked salt dough with Glitter Liquid Water Color from Discount School Supply.
My examples were two tone but there were no hard rules about how they were supposed to paint them.
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Some students were inspired to mimic my examples and did their best to keep the first color inside the impression of the animal and the second color on the negative space around the impression. Even for a trained, steady, adult hand this is hard because liquid water color likes to bleed and spread. Most students understood the concept and stepped to the challenge. Some were successful, all enjoyed the process.
animal impressions7
This project was loved by all. It involved sculptural hand working aspects along with painting. The kids loved picking through the assortment of animals and helping make the dough. I’d say even though the final results can be mixed, the process alone was a total hit and worth executing with any age.

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