Monday, March 19, 2012

Stink Dough

Perhaps my proudest moment as a blogger came when the terrific Sherry and Donna at Irresistible Ideas for Play Based Learning declared my mother's play dough recipe, officially, "irresistible!" It was a pride by proxy that I shared with my mom who has actually met said Sherry and Donna face-to-face during a trip Down Under last year. Mom is, indeed, both lucky and irresistible.

Ordinarily, when we're due for another batch of play dough, I either ask one of our parents to make some up at home or I make it myself with the kids on a hot plate in the classroom. (I know, I know, there are all kinds of uncooked play dough, I've tried them and found them lacking in the irresistible department.) But, you know, sometimes I loose my zen and monkey things up, which is what happened with our current batch.

I found myself with some time before class on Monday and figured I'd use it productively by whipping up some fresh stuff. I measured every thing out and was ready to go when I realized I'd forgotten the all-important vegetable oil. That's what makes it so smooth and supple. For a long time we had a couple large bottles in the storage room, but we'd used them up in our latest potion-mixing session. I know, I thought, I could use baby oil! But no, the last of it went into making cloud dough. Argh! I just needed a couple tablespoons; certainly I'd find some somewhere.

I was running out of time when my eyes lit upon a science experiment that has been congealing away since September. Each year for our first Pre-K class, we do a version of the classic preschool experiment "sink or float." We begin by testing various solid items in water to see what happens, but then extend the exploration by adding molasses and oil; one sinks in water, the other floats. We then add various solid items, some of which float on the oil, some sink through the oil to float on the water, some sink through the water and float on the molasses, and some sink all the way to the bottom. We make a tidy chart of everything, but then seal up the jar and let it sit as we periodically take note of what's changed. Over time, the molasses dissolves into the water, the apple slice and grape swell and rot, and a strange filmy substance starts to grow in there. One of the high points of our Pre-K year is re-opening the jar in May and smelling it. One of the least favorite parent jobs at the end of the year is cleaning out that jar.

But on Monday all I noticed was that there was a layer of oil floating right there at the top of that jar, a good cup of the stuff. I mean, I already had everything ready to go for the play dough. All I needed was to skim a couple tablespoons off the top. Yes, yes, yes, I thought, I'll do it. Oh, it was pungent, but I assumed (hoped) that the odor would cook out of it.

It didn't. I'd made a nice big, warm batch of stinky play dough, I'd already disposed of the old stuff, and class was about the start. We could go without play dough for one day, I realized, we've done that before, but then again, I rationalized, it's fresh play dough. Perhaps as it cools the stench would fall off.

This didn't seem to be happening either.

A good color was called for. Yes, that's it. I would forego the food coloring and choose a brilliant hue of liquid watercolor. The kids will have fun mixing it in. They'll grow immune to the smell through familiarity. Sigh. I could have sworn I'd grabbed a bottle of green -- you know, for St. Patrick's Day -- but it turned out to be "peach," a fact I only discerned after it was too late. Peach is not a good play dough color, although I suppose almost nothing goes well with stench. The kids, nevertheless, did have fun mixing in the color. At least there was that. And the stench wasn't putting them off too much, although the adults commented.

Okay, I thought, we'll perfume the diddly-o-dandy out it. That's the ticket! This is when, even considering all that had come before, I made my most tragic mistake. I remembered we had a surplus of powdered ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg. We would have so much fun shaking that into the play dough! So much better than, say, the lavender or peppermint oils I also had in stock. 

Oh my. It now both looked and smelled like rancid, over-seasoned pumpkin pie filling: now even the kids were saying things like, "Let's get some Vanilla! Vanilla smells good!" Some of them were calling it "stink dough."

Despite all of that, the children played with it like they usually did, enjoying the process of mixing in yet more color and yet more spices, so I let it ride. On Wednesday, as my relationship to this batch of play dough continued to spiral downward, it occurred to me that perhaps it wasn't too late to do something green with the play dough. I'd by now given up on thinking I could somehow rescue this play dough, but of all the colors of glitter we have in the supply closet, green is the most plentiful. It was with a sinking heart that I filled a big shaker jar with the stuff. At least, I knew, the kids would have fun.

Oh, did we enjoy shaking green glitter into it. Maybe, just maybe, I let myself begin to hope on Thursday, if we shake a ton of green glitter into it -- all of it! -- we would create a wonderful St. Patrick's Day miracle and I could write it up on the blog as a real play-based curriculum winner.

But I now know that there is no saving the stink dough. It lives, but its days are numbered. 

On Friday, Dylan carefully added some ground cork. Great.

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Hope Hunter Knight said...

hilarious! one of those moments that makes for great storytelling...

Unknown said...

I once received a batch of play do from a family that cooks with a lot of curry. Yep. Curry playdough. I thought adding peppermint oil would save it. Nope. Peppermint Curry playdough is definitely worse. :)

Emily Jeanminette EDM310 said...

I truly enjoyed reading your post. It's inspiring to see someone, especially a teacher with heavy influence, finding ways to recycle materials for use later. It shows kids that they don't need shiny new materials to succeed and that they can literally make something out of anything.

Caroline said...

Ha ha! What a great post - it certainly made me giggle. At least with all the elements you were stimulating the little ones' senses and it sounds like they had a ball.