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How to Make Salt Dough Beads with Children

Tray of salt dough beads for stringing.  Made at home and painted ot home.

Homemade Salt Dough Beads

Making homemade salt dough beads is a great winter activity for young children. This is an easy baking activity (though you don’t have to bake them) that even very young children can participate in. Making salt dough only requires 3 ingredients that you’re almost certain to already have in your home. Children love mixing up salt dough with their hands which is a great sensory experience, and it also helps them to develop fine motor and manipulative skills. The process of rolling, cutting, shaping, and molding the dough into beads is also great for motor skills, manipulative skills and dexterity. Children can paint the beads in any way they wish, and when they are coated with gloss, they look like little jewels!

Once the beads have dried the children will have the opportunity to play with the beads in a multitude of ways. Most obviously they can use them for threading and making necklaces, which is a great fine motor skill activity in itself. They can also use the beads (and whatever they make from them) for imaginative play. The beads may become money for the shop, medicine from the doctor, or treasure from the pirates. Additionally, they may use them to make patterns, sort them, make transient art, or use them as loose parts for open-ended play. While I do love Grapats, this can be a cheaper way to add to your loose parts collection without breaking the bank. It’s also lovely for children to take part in making their own resources to play with.

What you need to make salt dough beads

  • All-purpose flour or gluten-free all-purpose flour
  • Salt
  • Water
  • Paint (preferably acrylic)
  • Greaseproof paper
  • Varnish (water-based preferable) – we used mod podge
  • Butter knives, small cookie cutters, toothpicks, paperclips, thin stick or straws (You don’t need all of these, but some will be useful to shape your beads and to create a hole so that you can string them.)

To get the full instructions on making salt dough, please see my post on making handprint salt dough ornaments.

Once you have made your salt dough, roll some of it out (thickly) on greaseproof paper or a surface dusted with flour. You can then use a butter knife or small round cookie cutter shapes to cut out. You can also roll some into small balls with your hands. Once you have completed your shapes, use a toothpick, paperclip or another long thin object to poke a hole through your beads. You probably want to twist them around a bit to make the hole large enough to string easily. If you are making large beads you can also use a knife or straw to cut the hole. This will make it possible for very young children to be able to use a thicker or more rigid string such as a shoelace or pipe cleaner. Before you dry your beads you can also decorate them by carving/poking them a little bit with knives, paperclips or toothpicks.

We put ours in the oven on the lowest setting (about 150°C) until they were all dried out. Some of the thicker beads took about 6 hours to dry in the oven. You can also let them air dry, but this can take several days or more depending on the weather. If there are any cracks in your beads you can fill them in with flour paste. Once they are dry, children can decorate them with paint. If layering, allow at least half an hour between coatings. Finally, after the last coat of paint is dry, coat them with varnish.

Questions to Ask

  • How does it feel when you’re mixing it?
  • How does it change when you dry it / bake it? Can you change it back?
  • What can you make with them?

What they get from making salt dough beads

Cooking and baking with children allows them to begin to develop the skills and understanding of measurement. Mixing the salt dough with their hands, will help them to develop strength and manipulative skills, as well as fine motor skills. It also provides the opportunity to develop language skills through shared experiences. Finally, cooking and baking are excellent for introducing children to the scientific skills related to the properties of matter and chemical reactions.

Salt dough beads can be used as loose parts and are also great for imaginative and open-ended play. They are a cheaper alternative to buying loose part toys. Children can also thread beads to make necklaces, braclets, etc.

Take it further

See my posts on making handprint salt dough ornaments and nature-inspired salt dough ornaments.

See my post on loose parts play (coming soon) to find other objects that can be used for loose parts play / transient art.

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