Playdough cookies

What: Edible playdough / cookie dough, created with and baked.

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Patterns, layers, marblings, plain cookies, pressed-on spots, twisted spirals and The Biggest Cookie Ever.

How: There are a few recipes online, pick one that suits your diet and what you’ve got in the cupboard. Most any white cookie dough of a suitable texture works, as long as it can be rolled out, squished up, and hammered over and over again without getting too “worked”.

For us playdough cookies can be quite an event. First you make the plain cookie dough. Then you split it into two or three or four bowls (depending on how much dough you’re making) and work the colour in. I have tried using “natural” colours but they’re not always bright enough – choose whatever colouring works for you. Too much liquid colour added makes the dough too sticky to work, so be prepared to juggle that and add more flour if you need to.

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This step is messy. And that’s OK!

Then, once you have your coloured dough, it’s off on the construction side of things. The first time I did this I think I just let the kids do whatever. The second time I showed them how you could spiral strips of different colours together and we all made cookies of that type. One time we used two colours arranged in cylinders to make a checkerboard pattern when it was sliced, but I’ll post about that separately. This time was one of the “just let the kids go” times. Whenever we do this, I always make a few and pick something odd to do as an example, which the kids might or might not try themselves. This time I did some layering – putting a star of one colour on top of a circle of another colour. Kid 4 copied that trick, but Kid 6 was too busy making The Biggest Cookie Ever (which was a lesson in itself about structural stability). I also did one marbled cookie, with two colours marbled together, and next time I might show the kids how to do that particular trick. Or I might do cut-outs, or stamp designs in, or press lines in with a knife or fork. Most cookie or clay techniques can be demonstrated, and this has become one of our go-to activities.

Once the trays are full, you bake the cookies. I recommend supervising the thickness of the cookies put on the tray so that they bake evenly. I also recommend baking them for only just as long as the recipe and cookie thickness suggests – once they start to brown you lose that excellent colour. And then: you get to eat them afterwards. With some negotiations, of course, which is the other reason I always make some of my own. I might not be allowed more than one small one otherwise!

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Part way through. Both kids are starting to get tired and lose focus. Some days they last longer than others. I choose the quantity of dough partly on how many I think we’ll make that day.

Extras: This activity is all about the creativity. And eating cookies. But… it’s also an excellent opportunity to bring in clay and modelling skills, like the marbling (which is really good if you want to go on to use those plastic clays to make beads for jewellery), or structural stability. Layering colours, sticking pieces together in patterns, making 3D patterns that you only see when sliced (like those rock candy pulls you can get for weddings and birthdays!) – there are plenty of opportunities to extend this. Once the eldest child – a Kid 5 or 6 at the time I think – suggested we try and sell the cookies to Daddy and promptly attempted to extort as much cash out of him as they could get. While that didn’t work out entirely in their favour when Daddy took the whole tray of cookies hostage, playing “shop” or “cafe” is still a good idea. Cookies are fun to put on plates and serve!

Natural-dyed eggs

What: Eggs and cotton wool dyed with things from our kitchen or garden

dyed eggs

How: We boiled three different dye-things in their own saucepans of water, with a little vinegar to help the dye set, added a few eggs to each pan and let them soak overnight (12-18 hours all up). Yellow is turmeric peelings (leftover from some turmeric-lime truffles I made), pink is beetroot peelings (leftover from feeding the kids beetroot!), and blue is red cabbage. We had lots of fun watching the cabbage change colour as we added the vinegar, then eggs (with an alkaline shell), then baking soda to counteract the excess vinegar either Kid 1 or Kid 3 “helped” me pour. The eggs are brown (like almost all eggs sold in Australia) so the final colours have that base, but we also boiled white cotton wool in the water, to put in the egg baskets, and that came out with clearer colours. The cotton wool isn’t something you can keep forever though. Especially the lot that was cooked in the cabbage water – that keeps the odour of boiled cabbage!

Extras:

  • Boiling the cotton wool was good, to see the real colours of the dye.
  • Getting to play with the change of colour with the red cabbage was unexpected. We ended up doing that later as another activity – getting all of Daddy’s shot glasses and filling them with cabbage water, then adding various things from around the house to make a rainbow (which I’ll post on another time).
  • You could try dying with other things – onion skins are a common one (except the eggs are already brown!). I have dyers’ chamomile growing in my garden but we’ve never collected the shoebox of flowers you’d need for enough dyestuff. Turmeric, beetroot and red cabbage are reliable which is why I used them.
  • Lastly, of course, there’s the egg hunt, which was the real reason for doing this project!

“Washing” “dishes”

What: Gateway activity to getting the kids to wash dishes for me and also manual dexterity skills for cooking.

How: I collected lots of drink bottle and milk bottle lids over time, in a range of colours – orange, yellow and red from Gatorade and iced tea, blue from milk, green, black and purple from fruit juice. They were for use in other activities, but needed a good clean. The kids put an apron on each (and Kid 3 even kept it on!), I gave them a wooden spoon and mixing bowl with warm water and a squirt of detergent each. Then I distributed the lids. They had great fun stirring the water up to make bubbles, stirring the colourful lids around, trying not to send absolutely all their water over the edge, and getting the lids “clean”. I had a bottle-brush scrubber too that they took turns using. When they were “done”, they scooped the lids that were clean out and put them on a teatowel that I laid out for the purpose. I checked as we went for any that needed more thorough cleaning.

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Kid 1 and Kid 3 stirring and scrubbing in their bowls.

Extras: This leads on to other variations of washing dishes, and also to forms of cooking that need stirring. Stirring’s a surprisingly difficult skill, especially judging the force needed to move the spoon without flinging the contents on the ceiling. The lids have been in constant use since for maths and reading foundational activities.