Salt Clay Snowman

Old salt clay snowmenWhen my sister and I were little, my mom found a recipe for clay made from salt and we made snowmen out of it at Christmastime. I was around three, so my snowman was a little wobbly. He had to be held up by a toothpick that connected his three parts. My sister’s ended up painted with buttons, eyes, and a smile. They remain a holiday decoration at our parents’ house to this day. So, I thought it would be fun to do this with the girls and my nephews at Thanksgiving. We all travel to my grandpa’s house for Thanksgiving, which is a lot of fun, but there are a lot of breakables in one house full of five kids under the age of five. To curb a little of the rambunctious boredom (and just because it’s fun), I like to have a craft planned for the kids. Last year, we made turkeys from toilet paper rolls.

I prepped all of the supplies that we would need for this. Actually, I prepped the supplies I thought we’d need. I neglected to ask my mom for the recipe so in my last-minute packing, I assumed what I’d need and just emptied the contents of my kitchen in my bag. Then I promptly left it in my car. Multiple mom fails.

Luckily all is well that ends well. The kids had no trouble entertaining themselves, and we ended up making these snowmen with my mom the week after in a much more relaxed setting. The girls had a blast, and I suspect my mom had just as much fun. Her snowman ended up a work of salt clay mastery complete with arms, legs, nose, and hat.

I plan to keep this recipe on hand. It was so simple to make, and you really can make anything out of it.

Salt Clay snowmanWhat You’ll Need

2 cups salt
1 cup cornstarch
food color (optional)
Holiday ribbon
Peel & Stick Wiggle Eyes

  1. In a sauce pan, mix the salt and 2/3 cup of water. Stir this mixture consistently until it begins to bubble. This will take about 3-4 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat.
  3. Add to the mixture the cornstarch and 1/2 cup cold water.
  4. Stir until the mixture becomes stiff. Note: It will take 2-3 minutes of stirring for the mixture to become stiff and moldable. In the beginning it does not look like it will happen but then magically it does. So be patient. If it doesn’t, reheat.
  5. Allow to dry for 2-3 days. If you would like to keep them, use a clear sealer.

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Nurture the Experience

So this recipe made me pretty curious. I’ve known that cornstarch can be used as a thickener in pies and such, but, with my somewhat limited pie experience, I haven’t had many chances to see it in action and neither had the girls. How does cornstarch take a liquid and turn it into a solid? It was google search time. I found a good explanation on Mad Food Science. Cornstarch is, well, a starch, which is an energy storage molecule found in green plants. We’re going to have to stop there for a minute. This is a great scientific statement to relay to your kids, but until they have some background knowledge, it’s just a statement. How do you explain what a molecule is to kids? For our little digital natives, a video is probably best. Check this one out by makemegenius. It looks at molecules by starting with the states of matter. So much learning, so little time. And yes, the video is slightly annoying for adults, but have you seen the surprise egg videos? Don’t count it out just because it annoys you. Your kids may still be learning. Even if the concepts aren’t grasped, you’ve exposed them to scientific terminology, which are great building blocks. Just like molecules are the building blocks of matter, terminology is a building block of knowledge.

So, back to cornstarch. It’s made from the energy storage molecules of green plants. When it is heated, it breaks down and reforms into a solid. Here’s an easy way to explain. The letters of the alphabet are like molecules. You can use them to form a word. If you break them down and rebuild them, they can form another word. Just like the molecules in cornstarch break down and form into a new state of matter.

Recommended Reading

 This book is very well done. When you build a snowman (even the salt clay snowmen), they shift a little overnight; they are subjected to the elements.  I remember as a child being a little upset that they didn’t remain the same, or you’d have to go outside and reattach the nose. This book puts a really fun, whimsical spin on that. What do snowmen really do at night? Lots of fun and lots of mischief, that’s what. I also found some pretty fun coloring pages to go along with this.

  What is the world made of? Great question! This book explores the different states of matter in child-friendly language. It also enhances the learning with great pictures, examples and activities. Sometimes learning needs to be approached in many different ways. This book allows you to do that. A great introduction for kids.