Over the past few weeks, we’ve been discussing our –admittedly very personal — Top Ten Toys List. (If you’d like a quick recap, here are the toys mentioned so far, in no particular order: wooden blocks, puppets, dress-up clothes, dolls, wooden railways and trains, story books, and Playmobil.) The final two items on our list are both designed to bring out the creative side of your child.
9. Play-Doh® was originally designed in the 1930s by an American company, Kutol Products, as a putty for cleaning coal smoke residue from interior wallpaper. By the middle 1950s, the use of coal for home heating was on the wane and sales of the putty had drastically declined. According to industry legend, it was at this point that a Kutol company executive noticed that the putty was being used by students in a local nursery school as a modeling compound — and the idea of Play-Doh® was born.
Play-Doh® is essentially a salt-dough modeling clay. These clays are not new; they have been used throughout history by artisans for free-modeling wherever salt and wheat flour were available. The models created with this clay were often used as burnt offerings during religious ceremonies; both salt and bread (flour) have religious significance in many faiths. Further, they were widely available, inexpensive, and easy to use — when baked, the finished works are hard and durable.
The Play-Doh® recipe is, of course, a corporate secret: the United States patent for the product states that it contains salt, flour, water, fragrance, colour, and various substances that give the dough its stretch, retard growth of mould, and keep it smooth and pliable.
For only pennies a batch, you can make your own salt-dough clay. The recipe is quite simple:
- 2 cups white flour (don’t use whole wheat as it may go rancid)
- 1/2 cup fine table salt
- 1 tablespoon cream of tartar or powdered instant starch
- 1 tablespoon neutral cooking oil (canola oil is just fine)
- 1/4 cup warm water
- food colour (you can use liquid food colours, or — for amazingly bright colours, try a tiny amount of paste food colours, available where cake decorating supplies are sold)
- 2 drops natural flavouring oils or extracts (peppermint, cinnamon, vanilla, and so on)
- Mix all dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Blend all wet ingredients together except food colour and extracts in a mixing container, then stir into the dry mixture.
- Knead the dough by hand until the mixture is well blended. If you want to colour your batch, add a very small amount of paste food colouring to all or part of the mixture. Knead the colour in well, then add some extract and knead that in if you want to make scented dough.
- Since it has no preservatives, keep the finished dough in the refrigerator when it’s not being used.
10. The final entry on our Top Ten Toys List? Activity books from Klutz Press.
Klutz Press got its start in Palo Alto, CA, the brainchild of John Cassidy and fellow Stanford Unversity graduates Darrell Lorentzen and B.C. Rimbeaux. Company legend has it that the three were selling sets of home-made no-bounce juggling balls as sidewalk entrepreneurs and buskers when they got the idea to turn the thing into a kit (“Juggling for the Complete Klutz”, still in print and still a best-seller).
Other kits soon followed, each with the trademark Klutz Press combination of irreverent humour and first-class materials and instruction. The product designers at Klutz understand both their target market (young childen for their Chicken Socks division, and tweens and teens for the regular Klutz product lineup) and the particular skills and processes necessary for each project. Their kits walk a careful line between the pre-ordained and unimaginative results of many craft kits and the wild exuberance of artistic creativity, where anything goes. With Klutz activities, kids get careful instruction, top-quality materials, and a dollop of the loopy, creative joy of the artistic imagination.
This particular combination of instruction, materials, and joy can be wonderfully supportive of kids who, having once been enthusiastic young artists, have grown overly critical of their own artistic abilities (“I can’t draw! I can’t make it look right!”) Kits such as Watercolor for the Artistically Undiscovered, at left, feature instruction from well-known professional artists that subtly reinforces the notion that skills can be learned and improved upon, and that artistic expression is fun, and fun is good for the soul.
So, gather your chickies round you this weekend and stir up a batch of peppermint-scented green dough, or maybe some lemon-infused yellow or cherry-smelling red, or mess around with some watercolour paints, or learn to fold some Paper Flying Dragons (comes with hints on dragon care and history, very handy). Or, you could even teach yourself to juggle.
Who knows? It might lead to something pretty special.