As you probably know by now, my kids are all over the place. Which means getting them to create 2-dimensional art with crayons and paper was futile when they were toddlers. They are all about big movements (and big messes). Toddlers like to experiment with different tools and see what happens as a result of their actions. That’s why this salt painting project is a huge hit. It mixes a bit of science with art and comes out different every time.
It’s pretty cheap and simple to do, but there are a few non-optional tips to doing this project:
1. Keep your materials in small containers. Little one like to pour ALL the glue out and shake ALL the salt out. The smaller the container, the less you’ll waste.
2. Do this over a tray or a cookie sheet. Even a large cardboard box with low sides will work. Cover your work area with a towel that can get stained. Things are about to get messy.
3. When working with kids who move around and have a hard time focusing, only pull out the materials for one step at a time. If the kids see the liquid watercolors and eye droppers, they will want to skip straight to that step.
- tray, cookie sheet, or something similar to catch the salt and colorful drips
- cardboard (paper is too flimsy for this project)
- white glue (we like washable glue in 1.25 oz containers)
- salt (in a shaker–tape up some of the holes from the inside if the salt comes out too quickly)
- liquid watercolors (food coloring stains waaay too easily)
- eye droppers
Make Some Salt Paintings:
Step 1. Cut cardboard into a size that will fit within the tray. Set it on the tray and give it to your child with the glue. Ask your child to squeeze the glue onto the cardboard. Explain that they can draw with the glue–I bet they usually only get to draw with crayons, pencils, or markers. Drawing with glue is unexpected. Older kids can write their names or draw an object with the glue.
Troubleshooting Step 1:
Your kiddo doesn’t want to squeeze? – Demonstrate how to squeeze the glue using two hands. Help your child by holding your hands over his or hers and squeezing.
Your kiddo squeezes one dot and is all done? – Demonstrate how to make the glue “dance” around the cardboard. Hold it up, squeeze it, and move it around quickly. It helps if you sing a silly song about dancing glue. You can also explain that they need to squeeze a LOT of glue onto the paper. How often are they told that?
Your kiddo wants to squeeze all the glue out? – Awesome. That’s exactly what they should do.
Your kiddo wants to squeeze the glue anywhere but onto the tray? – Guide his or her hands to the tray/cardboard and explain that the glue needs to stay within those boundaries.
Step 2. When your child is finishing up with the glue, pull out the salt shaker. Explain that your kiddo needs to shake salt ALL OVER the glue. When finished with this step, shake any salt into an empty tub or onto a plate (you can reuse it when the salt shaker is empty).
Troubleshooting Step 2:
Your kiddo wants to shake salt anywhere BUT onto the glue? – Guide his or her hands to the tray and explain the salt needs to stay within those boundaries. (But it’s ok if you get some salt all over the table/hair/clothes).
Your kiddo doesn’t want to shake the salt? – Make up a silly dance or song. Move your body and shake, shake, shake that salt.
Your kiddo shakes a little on and is finished? – Show your child the shiny spots of glue. Explain that you need to cover up all the shiny spots with salt. The salt really needs to be caked on there.
Salt coming out of the shaker too fast? – tape up some of the holes from the inside.
Your kiddo wants to make a mountain of salt? – Great! That’s going to look really cool during the next step.
Step 3. It’s time for color! Place some liquid watercolors into spillproof containers (this is the only way we have success… you can try using an egg carton or dixie cups, but those inevitably get knocked over). Remember, a little goes a long way. We mix our liquid watercolors about 1:1 with water. Have your child use an eye dropper to squeeze the color onto the salt.
Troubleshooting Step 3:
Your kiddo can’t use the eye dropper? – Demonstrate each step with patience. “Put the dropper in the paint. Squeeze the bubble. Now leave it in there and unsqueeze.” Move their hand over the artwork, then instruct them to squeeze the bubble again. Another option is to suck up the paint yourself and just have your little one do the squeezing step.
Your kiddo is going crazy with the watercolor, and there are puddles of paint EVERYWHERE! – That’s why you’re using cardboard and a tray to collect the color. Let your child experiment, and try not to limit the exploration.
There isn’t enough salt to contain the paint? – Add more salt or more glue at any time during the process. Most kids will end up going back and forth with the glue, salt, and color, spending a lot of time on this project. As you add salt, watch how the color moves through the salt, almost if by magic.
Your kiddo is more interested in jabbing the gluey, salty mess with the eye dropper than putting color on it? – That’s ok. Encourage your child to explore the material. The glue turns into a pretty cool, non-sticky goo when mixed with the salt anyway. It’s kinda fun to play with.
Here are some examples of what the final artwork looked like:
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