September 27, 2012

Salt Dough Maps

We've made our fair share of salt dough maps over here, and each time we have made little improvements to our method.  Thought we'd share some of our secrets to getting kiddos to make beautiful maps that they can be proud of.  Some of this is basic, some is more on the frivolous and artistic side.  Ready?

Lesson Ideas 
We've made salt dough maps for all sorts of lessons.  Hannah Jane made one of northern Africa for her study of ancient times.  She used it over the course of an entire semester to follow the paths of different Old Testament stories and the move of cultures across the continent.  When we studies the 12 tribes of Israel, she made a map of Israel and painted the territories of the tribes each a different color and painted a key in the corner.  So, obviously history and social studies lend themselves nicely to salt dough maps.  But we've also made them for science to map out continental drift from the Super Continent and this most recent round has been to help the kids identify different geological land forms.  They were given a list of geological terms and told to make up a country that had each of the land forms in it.  They had to have a mountain range, cliffs, a plateau, a river with a mouth into the sea, tributaries, a bay, a canal, a peninsula, islands, and a straight.

The Building Surface
Before you do anything, you'll want to cut some large sheets of heavy cardboard to make your map on.  You'll want real corrugated cardboard as opposed to poster board if you'r going to want pin or toothpick labels.  You need those extra layers to hold the punctures in place.  It's better if it is clear of any marks so that the kids can clearly outline their intentions without shipping symbols getting in the way and confusing things, but you can do it on any.  Just don't be tempted to paint over the markings first to give the kids a clear surface for planning.  The weight of the salt dough will peel the paint off of the cardboard and then you'll be left with a big old mess.  It seems like a good plan, but trust me.  Don't paint the cardboard first.


Now that you've got your cardboard, the kids will want to sketch out the parameters of their map with a marker.  Have them draw around the land lines, mark mountain ranges with ^^^ symbols, color in bodies of water, mark rivers with blue lines, and so on.  They'll cover over all of this with dough and paint, but it will help them maintain the integrity of their vision as they add dough.  When they add over the ^^^ symbols, they'll remember to pile it higher and they'll remember not to add any to the landlocked water areas outlined.

The Recipe

We've used several different proportions of the basic elements (salt, flour, water) and the best one we've used is 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup salt, and 1/2 cup water.  Others have dried out too fast, left our hands feeling gross, or have been so doughy that they never harden up.  So, this seems to be the magic ratio.  Spare your hands and let the kids measure and mix it.  They'll have more fun than you will and they will feel ownership over the project from start to finish.

Pile it on

Now's the time to pile on the dough.  I recommend showing them how to add a ball of dough about the size of a large cherry to the surface of the map in a land area, and then use the meat of their palm to roll it out thin across the surface of the land.  For most of the land, you really want a crazy thin layer that will dry easily and just merely add some texture.  In the mountain areas, pinch up slightly higher points and ridges.  We found that if a river flows into a larger body of water, it is helpful to draw the line of the river out beyond the land's edge to help them visualize where to place the river after their land dough is covering their planning marks.

Before it Dries
Before the dough dries, you'll want to use a toothpick to drag out any river beds.  You'll also want to stab toothpicks into any places that will eventually be labeled.  If you wait until it dries, your toothpicks won't easily penetrate.

Painting Techniques
The various stages of painting.  Haven's is the finished map, Hunter has moved on to water, and Hannah Jane is just getting rolling on her land. 

We've found that you only need a few colors for most maps.  Dark green, yellow, light blue, and white should suffice.  After the kids have pulled out the toothpicks, I start by having the kids paint all land dark green.  Fast and easy, no fuss.  Every now and then an island will come off the cardboard once it dries, so you might have to hot glue the islands back in place.  Then they mix a little yellow into the green to get a sappier color and dab that around river beds and the base of mountains and plateaus.  Next they dab pure yellow atop plateaus and anywhere they want to show desert terrain.  Hannah Jane also always likes to add beaches, but be careful not to get carried away with beach colors.  Next they paint the water a solid blue.  Again, no fuss, quick and dirty.  Then they mix in some white and broadly drag that all around the land to show more shallow water.

Finally, they take white and dab it roughly against the land line to show breaking waves and then they dab some on the tops of mountains that might be snow capped.  Layering the colors makes for a more interesting map to look at than just green and blue, and helps kids think about the geographical regions more concretely.

Label Baby!
This picture looks a little overwhelming because this was a label heavy assignment, the purpose of which was to learn land forms, Generally, a map used for history class will be less cluttered up.

Now you're going to get those toothpicks back!  We take index cards and write one label on ever other line.  Then we cut it into long strips, cutting through the blank lines between labels.  Fold the strips in half and glue them to the toothpicks, with the toothpicks directly in the bend of the label strip.  Once they're done, stab them back into the holes you made on dough day.

Time Frame
This is generally a 3 or 4 day process.  Design and dough can be done on the same day if you have time.  The dough needs to dry overnight, so painting needs its own separate day.  And it's generally best to save labeling until the next day when paint won't be disturbed.

As we've made more of these, and the coloration becomes more and more impressive, they've become harder and harder for the kids to part with.  That's my only real warning here.  They're so proud that I have trouble throwing them out.  But really, how much school stuff can we save?  I'm thinking that photos of major projects in their school save-book for the year should be sufficient, but I'm pretty sure these babies are hanging around bedroom floors for at least a month.

Hope that's helpful!  If you have tips we could use, send them my way!  I'm sure we'll be making more of these.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous14.10.13

    Wow this is a great idea! I'm doing salt dough maps too, and the toothpick idea helped a lot instead of digging up rivers with fingers.


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