Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Diamond Play Dough

Usually, I don't make the play dough. Being a cooperative, that's typically something I ask a parent to handle, but every now and then something will "happen" to our current batch (e.g., dropped into water, left out overnight) and I'll need to whip up a quick batch before class starts.

The last time I did this, we wound up with what the kids called "stink dough," a truly vile concoction created when I discovered mid-way through the process that we were out of vegetable oil, a deficit I attempted to correct by skimming a couple tablespoons of what turned out to be rancid oil from the surface of a congealing science experiment.

This time I discovered we were about a cup short on salt. (I really ought to learn to check supplies before getting going.) I figured the salt added two main things to play dough, bulk and a strong flavor that discourages kids from just eating it. As I rummaged around for a replacement ingredient I came across a bag of rock salt. It was worth a try.

It cooked up fine, and, in fact, turned out to be one of the silkiest, smoothest batches we've had around these parts in a long time. This, I believe, is a result of ending the cooking time when it still looked way too sticky. You can take it off the heat too early, so I was trying to walk a fine line, one I'm pleased to say I managed in this instance with great success.

I'd wondered if the heat and moisture would dissolve the rock salt or if we would wind up with supple, yet chunky play dough. It was the latter. 

The children have been working with this rock salt dough for a couple weeks, every now and then one of them asking about the chunks. (The adults have asked as well, but mainly as a way to inform me that "the kids" have managed to mix something into the play dough that is blocking up some of the play dough toys.) On Monday, however, Charlotte suddenly said, "Hey! There are diamonds in the play dough!" Between her thumb and index finger she held a large salt crystal which she had cleaned entirely of dough.

Before long a half dozen kids had joined her, their little fingers working in our little play dough salt mines, removing those chunks of rock salt one-by-one, creating private stashes of this precious mineral. As they made their piles, I couldn't help but reflect on the fact that wars have been fought over this mineral, that empires have risen and fallen based upon this stuff, that, in fact, the salaries of Roman soldiers were once paid in salt; the word "salary," derives from the Latin word for salt.

And here we were again, full circle, mining our precious diamonds of salt. Only this time we didn't just grab with both hands and make a stash. When we were done we mixed it all back into the dough so that, as Audrey said, "There's some jewels in there for the little kids to find."

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1 comment:

Elle Emenohpea said...


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