So often, the best things are also the most simple things. This Five Dollars, Five Ways post uses simple ingredients and classic recipes to create gifts, decorations, and ornaments that are fun and frugal (and possibly free)!
You will need to get flour and salt at the dollar store. You will also need vegetable oil, food coloring, and cream of tartar. If you already have these things at home, you can use your $5 budget to add small toys, trinkets, and other objects. You might also like some ribbon, if you don’t have any already. If you have all of these things at home, then you can do all five activities without spending a dime!
Basic Play Dough:
Cooking Method: Mix two cups of all purpose flour, 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil, 1/2 cup salt, 2 Tablespoons cream of tartar, 1 1/2 cups of hot water, and food coloring (either several drops of food coloring or a packet of flavored drink mix like Kool-Aid). Stir frequently over medium-low heat until the mixture forms a ball. When dough is cool enough to touch, knead a bit with your hands.
No-Cook Method: Mix all ingredients except for water. Add (up to) 1 1/2 cups boiling water and stir. When dough is cool enough to touch, knead a bit with your hands. If dough remains sticky, you can add a bit of flour.
*Note: Cream of tartar can be omitted if you don’t have any on hand, but the play dough will be better and last longer with cream of tartar included.
Basic Salt Dough:
Combine one cup of salt and one cup of flour. Gradually add up to one cup of water. Stop adding water when the mixture has the consistency of dough and you can touch the mixture without it sticking to your hands. Small amounts of flour can be added if the dough is too sticky.
Activity 1: Play Dough Play
Using play dough from the recipe above and a variety of toys and/or kitchen tools, I set my kids up at the kitchen table and let them go have at it. Recently, we did seasonal colors and impressions. Homemade play dough makes a great gift! You can do a trio of colors and/or include a small bag of cookie cutters or toys with the dough.
Activity 2: Play Dough Holiday Card
Sometimes I halve the play dough recipe so that I have a smaller amount, but a wider selection of colors. Using a variety of colors (and maybe some small holiday-themed objects), ask your kids to make a holiday play dough scene. Take some pictures of the scene, and voilà! You’ve got last minute holiday cards and a Facebook cover photo for the month of December. (Photography tip: Make sure your children create their holiday scene where there is good lighting so that you can get the best quality photo.) Another option is to have them create their scene on a baking sheet or piece of cardboard so that you can (carefully!) move it to an area with good lighting when they are finished.
Activity 3: Play Dough Surprise Eggs
My kids love to watch play dough and toy videos on YouTube. Their favorites are the ones where someone has taken a small toy and covered it in play dough that has been shaped to look like an egg. You can do this same thing with small toys you already have or trinkets from the dollar store. Some kids will even want to make the eggs themselves to surprise you or their siblings. This would also be a great idea for a gift!
Activity 4: Salt Dough Ornaments
Using a rolling pin (or a smooth drinking glass) roll your salt dough onto a floured surface. Use cookie cutters for shapes, juice glasses for circles, or a knife for free-hand shapes. We used rubber stamps to create words and initials and plastic objects for textures. Use a straw to make a nice hole through which to run ribbons or string for hanging. Place on parchment paper on a baking sheet and bake at a low temperature (I used my oven’s warm setting which is 170 degrees) for a couple of hours (or more) until dough is hard. Slow and low heat is the key. I also flipped my pieces during baking. We colored our dough with food coloring, but you can also use paint and glitter after baking. You can also use the salt dough shapes as gift tags and garlands. They make great gifts for grandparents and teachers!
Activity 5: Wrapping Paper with Homemade Paint
Mix equal parts flour, salt, and water. Add food coloring, and stir until smooth. Using their fingers and brushes, your kids can decorate kraft paper, butcher paper, brown grocery bags, or construction paper. Once dry, use it as wrapping paper.