Playdough cookies

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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!

Carrot prints and painting

What: Printing and painting with food dye, using carrots cut into shapes as stampers and “brushes”.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
In progress. Kid 6 is beginning a picture on the left, kid 4 is making random stamps in the middle, and I am partway through some more coordinated stamping on the right. There is a tray of blue dye and a tray of yellow. Carrots don’t “wash off”, so double dipping has predictable results.

How: Cut the carrots on a couple of different angles and at different sizes – you should be able to get small circles, big circles, ovals, irregular/pointy ovals, and even a rectangle or two of various proportions. I also cut one carrot unevenly so that it stamped a half circle, and cut another to give a more triangular result. Take plastic or styrofoam meat/fruit trays and put a few drops of different colours of food dye on them. Rub the carrots in the dye and stamp them or roll them or “brush” them on the page to make patterns and pictures.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Kid 6’s finished pieces on the left, and kid 4’s finished pieces on the right (which may have devolved into finger work). Streaking was a popular technique.

Extras: Careful choice of dyes means you get to talk about mixing colours – and the colours WILL mix! You can focus on making patterns of whatever level of complexity your kids are up to, do it “wrapping paper” style. Or use the shapes to build up a picture and talk about what shapes are in the picture or make up different parts of the picture. I would have liked to talk about what happens when you roll – that mental translation from a 3D object to what its sides look like in a 2D form as you roll it across the page – but neither kid 4 or kid 6 was quite up for that. At first (and mostly) they just used the carrots like pencils, but as they went along they began to see that they could do more than that.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
My two pieces, made for the purpose of keeping my hands busy, talking as we went and (without specifically saying so) demonstrating ideas. The first was wrapping-paper style stamping, the second was experimenting with techniques and shapes to make a picture. The “dunes” at the bottom are one piece of unevenly-cut carrot, rolled across the page.