Inexpensive anytime art recipes to use with children

These child-tested, homemade materials will help keep your budding artists busy, happy, and creating.

1. Cornstarch fingerpaint

1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup cold water
Food coloring

Combine cornstarch and water in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick and clear. Divide fingerpaint into separate containers and add food coloring. Then create!
This is nontoxic paint, so it’s great for toddlers, but make sure to protect furniture and clothing. We often used this paint on an outdoor plastic table that we could hose off.

2. Play clay

Make enough to share with friends!

2 cups flour
1 cup salt
2 cups water
2 T. vegetable oil
1 T. cream of tartar

Food coloring, optional
Few drops of mouthwash

Combine flour, salt, water, vegetable oil, and cream of tartar in a medium-sized pot. Stir over medium to low heat continuously until the mixture looks like mashed potatoes. Be careful not to burn the bottom of the mixture.
Remove pan from heat, and cool dough until you can touch it. Knead on a floured surface until smooth. Work in paste food coloring if you want vibrant color, or use the dough as is. You can also add extracts like peppermint, vanilla, or anise, or spices such as ground cloves or cinnamon to the cooled dough. You can even add glitter, but don’t. Because… glitter is forever.
Store dough in the refrigerator in a sealed container or large Ziplock bag. If you add a splash of mouthwash to the dough, it will stay fresh longer.
This dough has a wonderful smooth consistency and you can play with it for a long time before it gets dry. It works well with rollers, stampers, and cookie cutters, too.

3. Sand sculptures to keep

It really works, and the finished product looks like a real sand castle.

2 cups play sand
1 cup cornstarch
1 cup water

Mix the sand, cornstarch, and water in on old pot. Cook over low heat, stirring continuously. When mixture thickens (this takes a long time), remove from heat.
Pack sand mixture into molds and turn out onto newspaper. You can add sticks, shells, or stones to the sculpture before it hardens. Let dry 1-2 days.
When dry, the sand sculpture can last indefinitely without crumbling. We used little sand molds shaped like turtles and fish to make favors for a beach-themed party.

4. Colored pasta for crafts

Penne, rigatoni, and wagon wheels are easy to string.

1 lb. uncooked pasta
Paste food coloring
2-3 T. rubbing alcohol

Put dry pasta in a large Ziplock bag. Add rubbing alcohol and food coloring. Seal the bag tightly and shake until pasta is dyed evenly. Add more alcohol if it’s not covering well, and add more food coloring if you want a more vibrant color.
Cover a tray with newspaper or paper towels. Pour the colored pasta onto the tray and spread it out to dry. Extra alcohol will evaporate. Store when completely dry in airtight containers and it will honestly keep for years. You can use the same method to color uncooked rice for gluing or layering.

You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.

Maya Angelou

Side note: That quote above reminds me of a large jar of sequins I bought about 20 years ago. Our family has done tons of craft projects using those sequins over the past two decades, and the jar looks almost as full as it did when it was new. I guess you can’t use up sequins either.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Pamela Hildebrand says:

    I spy a hand-me-down dress worn by two kids in different pictures haha. The value of reusing can be a whole other blog post 😉 If the dress is just going to get dirty, doesn’t matter if it came from the mall or from your big sister 3 years ago


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