Have you ever made 3D salt dough maps? We are getting ready for our school’s International Week at our house, and I have volunteered to set-up tables for Ethiopia and Mexico, and also will contribute to the China table. This weekend we began to make some materials for our “touch tables.” You might have seen 3D Salt Dough Maps before- they are made by mounting self-hardening dough onto cardboard, forming the mountains and other physical landforms, and then allowing it to dry so you can paint it. Kids (and adults!) learn just as much in the process- or more– than from the final product, and you end up with a beautiful, handmade display item that is just perfect for an International Week at school.
Step 1: Make the Dough for the Salt Dough Maps
Using their hands, have your kids mix together 4 cups of flour, 2 cups of salt, 2 cups of water, 2 tablespoons of cream of tartar.
Step 2: Print, Cut Out the Outline, Trace the Country
Look on-line for printable maps: Eduplace has it organized by state, country, or continent. If you want to be able to print larger maps, I used YourChildLearns maps, where you can specify the map to fit on 1 page, 4 pages (2×2), 9 pages (3×3), up to 64 pages! That’s a big map… and a lot of dough! We chose 4 pages, and taped them together, and cut them out. I realized that you don’t have to be extremely careful cutting out the intricate bays and jagged coastline. Just have the kids do their best and it will turn out fine. Once it is cut out, trace the outline onto your cardboard, and remove the paper map.
Step 3: Press the Dough onto the Map
Have your kids take balls of the dough and flatten them into the outline you have traced. I pulled up pictures of “physical maps” on my computer of their countries/continent so that could see the landforms. First make the map flat, and slowly build up the elevation according to the maps you find on-line.
When the dough is dry (ours took a couple of days because it was very humid here), it is time to paint. If you are making a physical map, as we did here, the different colors represent changes in elevation, and NOT vegetation. For example, green signifies lowlands, not tropical forests. Normally blue is water, green is the lowest land, yellow is climbing in elevation and brown is mountainous. The highest peaks of the mountains are sometimes red, purple, or white. Make sure to include important rivers and other bodies of water. Have your kids paint a “key” to tell the viewers what each color means for them.
There are different ways to finish the maps: some people like to place little pins in the dough before it has hardened to label landforms or major cities. Outside the salt dough maps on the cardboard, I might have my children label the countries that border their country. However you decide to do it, there is so much to learn while making the maps with your kids. My daughter was so impressed by the amount of mountains Mexico has, and she had to check our “real” physical map upstairs to see if the was adequately making a wide enough mountain range… My son loved to see the beginning of the Nile River in his home country of Ethiopia… My daughter loved to form the mountains on Madagascar, and asked how an island could have mountains. My other son wanted to know why China has a small peninsula coming off in the northwest (North and South Korea!).
As much as we learned, I am going to be honest about the best part of this project. Finishing it up, my 4 year old said “Mommy, I LOVE doing projects with you! And I love when they take a long time. Can we do it again??” Melts my heart. “Of course!! I’m going to think of an even longer one, just for you:).”