Making salt dough handprint ornaments is a fun activity for toddlers and children. They also make excellent presents for grandparents or mementos to decorate your Christmas tree.
Making salt dough is an easy cooking activity in which even young children can participate. The Development Matters document recommends cooking for its wide range of benefits to children. Cooking provides them with the opportunity to develop fine motor and manipulative skills. Additionally, it encourages the development of speech and language skills. It is also a great opportunity to introduce children to measurement and scientific concepts such as properties of matter and chemical reactions.
What you need to make salt dough handprint ornaments
Salt Dough Recipe
- 1/2 cup table salt (about 125g)
- 1 cup plain flour (about 250g) or 1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour for a gluten-free version
- 1/2 cup of water (about 125ml)
- Baking tray and greaseproof paper
- Paint (acrylic is usually best) & brushes
- Clear varnish / sealer (I use Mod Podge)
- String or ribbon
- Rolling pin
Preheat the oven to 150°C. Mix the salt and flour and then add in the water. Knead the dough until it is smooth. If the dough isn’t sticking together you can add one tablespoon of water and continue kneading until it is combined.
Making the Ornaments
Sprinkle some flour out on the table. To make handprints, take a small ball of dough and then roll and flatten it out until it is larger than the size of your child’s hand. Depending on your child’s age, you may need to help them keep their hand flat while pressing it in to the dough. If you are trying to do this with a baby or toddler, you will need two people as it can be hard to keep their hands flat. Use a butter knife or handle of a teaspoon and spin around to make a small hole (to loop a string through later). If it becomes misshapen, you can always use a knife to cut around the edges and reshape it. Alternatively, you can use a straw to cut out the hole.
Place the ornaments on the greaseproof paper on the baking tray. Place it in the oven (preheated to 150°C). Leave the creations in the oven for at least 3 hours or until completely dried. *It can sometimes take 6 hours or more depending on the oven. Alternatively, you can let them sit out to dry for several days (the exact time varies depending on thickness). If there are any cracks in your ornaments you can fill them in with flour paste and then let them dry. Be sure to only apply a thin layer, or it will crack and fall off.
Once your ornaments are completely dried, they are ready to paint. Acrylic paint is usually a good choice, though you will need to be careful if using it with young children as it does stain clothing. Make sure they are well covered with an apron. Let the paint dry for at least 30 minutes between coatings. Once the acrylic paint has dried, you can cover it with a water-based varnish/sealer.
Questions to Ask
- How does it feel when you mix the dough with your hands?
- Can you make any shapes?
- How did it change when you added the water to the flour and salt? What about when you baked it in the oven? What did you notice?
What they get from making salt dough handprint ornaments
Cooking and baking with children allows them to begin to develop skills and understanding of measurement. Mixing the salt dough with their hands will help them to develop strength, manipulative skills, and fine motor skills. It also it also helps them to increase their language skills through thse shared expriences. In addiion, cooking and baking activities are also an opportunity for hildren to be introduced to scientific skills related to properties of matter and chemical reactions.
Decorating the ornaments through pressing their hands, and later painting, is a very simple way to make marks. This type of activity will continue to get them ready for writing. See below for further ways to use making ornaments with salt dough as an opportunity to mark make.
Take it further
See my post on making UK Nature-inspired Salt Dough Ornaments. This is a great activity to follow on from handprint ornaments.
See my post on making Salt Dough Beads. This is another fun activity for children and the beads can then be used for threading and fine motor skills.
Salt dough is a great material for making simple sculptures that children can paint. It doesn’t hold much of a shape until it is cooked so it is generally easiest to make flat sculptures rather than standing ones.
Department for Education (2018) Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/early-years-foundation-stage-framework–2 (Accessed: 9 November 2019).