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How to Make Salt Dough Ornaments with Kids: A STEM Lesson

Interested in fostering global STEM skills in your learners? Incorporate simple math and science concepts while making salt dough ornaments!

The Origin of Salt Dough

The creation of salt dough dates back to ancient Egyptian times. Salt was added to flour and clay to make a clay-like substance to shape into bowls. Once dried, these bowls would last for quite a while, due to the preservation properties of salt.

In current times, salt dough makes a simple, inexpensive medium to practice sculpting techniques, create ornaments, or simply to play with, replacing the highly processed colored “dough” marketed towards children.

How to Use Salt Dough Creation as a STEM Activity

Speaking as a former American high school science teacher, my students consistently struggled with the concept that there were multiple units to measure quantities of substances. In the United States, we rely on English measuring units, while the rest of the world uses Metric units. Integrating both English and Metric units into your learners’ daily activities creates a mathematically bilingual student!

Convert Between English and Metric Units

Here are two common English to Metric units that will be addressed in this salt dough STEM activity:

EnglishMetric
TemperatureFahrenheit (℉)Celsius (℃)
VolumeCupMilliliter (mL)

To convert between English and Metric units, a bit of mathematics is required.

To convert a temperature in Farenheit to a value in Celsius, use the following formula:

( °F − 32) × 5/9 = °C

For example, in this baking activity, we use an oven heated to 250°F. This value can be converted to degrees Celcius by doing the following:

(250°F − 32) × 5/9 = 121°C

As you can see, the numerical value of our baking temperature for this activity is much lower in Celsius than in Fahrenheit. To provide context for these relative values, it may be helpful to point out to your students the freezing and boiling points of water in both temperature units.

Fahrenheit (°F)Celcius (°C)
Freezing Point of Water32°F0°C
Boiling Point of Water212°F100°C

The other measurement we will utilize in this activity is volume. Volume is the amount of three-dimensional space a substance takes up. To convert volume measurements between the English and Metric units we are using, the mathematics is a bit simpler.

1 cup ~ 237 milliliters (mL)

Notice that the approximate (~) symbol is used to represent the conversion factor between cups and milliliters. The milliliter value isn’t exact but is rounded to the nearest whole number.

If your learners are young, simply introducing the names of the different measurement quantities is sufficient in fostering a broader understanding of global mathematical concepts. If your learners are a bit older, give them the provided recipe in either English or Metric units and ask them to convert the values to the opposite units.

Discuss States of Matter

You can also integrate STEM skills into this salt dough activity for younger learners by pointing out the states of matter that are being represented in the recipe. Flour and salt are both solids while water is a liquid.

When these ingredients are combined, a soft, pliable salt dough forms. When the dough is dried, the liquid water transforms into a gas and evaporates from the dough, leaving a hard, dry salt dough substance in its place.

By conducting simple baking activities with your learners, you can foster mathematical and scientific competency without leaving the kitchen.

Materials to Make Salt Dough

Look no further than your kitchen cabinets or pantry to find everything you need to create salt dough. The recipe requires three ingredients:

  • 2 cups (474 mL) flour
  • 1 cup (237 mL) salt
  • 1 cup (237 mL) water

Use the creation of salt dough to introduce or reinforce to your learners that there are different quantities used to measure the volume of solid and liquid ingredients.

Instructions to Create Salt Dough

Making the salt dough is simple and small children can easily do it with assistance.

  1. In a large bowl, add the water and salt and mix with a spoon.
  2. Slowly add the flour, stirring frequently.
  3. Use your hands to knead the dough until you have created a pliable, uniform mixture.
  4. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Now let the creativity begin!

Tools to Make Salt Dough Ornaments

One way to play with salt dough is to create ornaments to adorn a tree to give as gifts. Here are the tools you will need to make ornaments:

  • Rolling pin
  • Cookie Cutters
  • Cookie sheet
  • Parchment paper
  • Pencil
  • Twine or yarn
  • Scissors
  • Additional flour
  • Oven (optional)
  • Paint and paintbrushes (optional)

If you do not have access to an oven, you can air-dry these ornaments in a warm, dry spot. This method will add two to three days of drying time for the salt dough to completely harden.

Instructions to Create Salt Dough Ornaments

After you make your salt dough, create festive ornaments in a few short steps. The salt dough in this recipe creates approximately 18-20 ornaments using standard-sized cookie cutters.

  1. Preheat the oven to 250℉ (120℃)
  2. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Lightly dust a clean, flat surface with flour.
  4. Use the rolling pin to roll the dough ¼ inch (~½ cm) thick. The thicker the dough, the longer it will take to dry.
  5. Cut out shapes in the dough with the cookie cutters and place them on the parchment paper-covered baking sheet.
  6. Create a small hole at the top of each ornament by gently pressing the eraser end of a pencil into the dough.
  7. Bake the ornaments at 250℉ (120℃) for approximately 2 hours. If using the air dry method, place the baking sheet in a warm, dry area and let the ornaments sit for two to three days.
  8. After the ornaments are cool and dry, you may decorate with paint. Painting the ornaments helps to preserve the salt dough, allowing the ornaments to be displayed year after year.
  9. Once the ornaments are dried, cut and thread a piece of twine or yarn through each hole to create a hanger for each ornament.

If you give this activity a try, please let us know by tagging us in your images on social media or contacting us via email! If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below.

How to Make Salt Dough Ornaments with Kids

How to Make Salt Dough Ornaments with Kids

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Active Time: 20 minutes
Additional Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 25 minutes

Make salt dough ornaments and help your young learners practice global measurements conversions.

Materials

  • 2 cups (474 mL) flour
  • 1 cup (237 mL) salt
  • 1 cup (237 mL) water

Tools

  • Rolling pin
  • Cookie Cutters
  • Cookie sheet
  • Parchment paper
  • Pencil
  • Twine or yarn
  • Scissors
  • Additional flour
  • Oven (optional)
  • Paint and paintbrushes (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 250℉ (120℃)
  2. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Lightly dust a clean, flat surface with flour.
  4. Use the rolling pin to roll the dough ¼ inch (~½ cm) thick. The thicker the dough, the longer it will take to dry.
  5. Cut out shapes in the dough with the cookie cutters and place them on the parchment paper-covered baking sheet.
  6. Create a small hole at the top of each ornament by gently pressing the eraser end of a pencil into the dough.
  7. Bake the ornaments at 250℉ (120℃) for approximately 2 hours. If using the air-dry method, place the baking sheet in a warm, dry area and let the ornaments sit for two to three days.
  8. After the ornaments are cool and dry, you may decorate with paint. Painting the ornaments helps to preserve the salt dough, allowing the ornaments to be displayed year after year. 
  9. Once the ornaments are dried, cut and thread a piece of twine or yarn through each hole to create a hanger for each ornament.

About The Author

image of Jess Purcell, co-founder of RGK

Jess Purcell

Jess Purcell, a co-founder of Raising Global Kidizens, is a science educator who is dedicated to making the science of sustainability accessible to all learners. She creates sustainability science lessons and nature activities written for students of all ages to be done in the classroom or at home to foster critical thinking skills and a love of the natural world. You can find more of her work at Thoughtfully Sustainable.

Jess lives in central Pennsylvania with her husband, two kids, and two cats and can usually be found outside, working out the kinks of an experiment, upcycling trash into “treasure”, hiking with her family, or attempting to read a book while being cajoled into a game of hide-and-seek.

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