Cooking up Art at Home: Recipes for Homemade Art Projects

As an art educator, I use a pretty awesome variety of materials. Paint sure, glue, but I often get the most enjoyment from making something brand new with the kids; mixing, pouring and experimenting with a variety of ingredients. It always takes me back to some of the favorite things I would do as a kid, and connects me to my love for cooking.

For me, visual arts and cooking are very similar. Each medium takes creativity, passion, trial, error, and love. A person uses materials in innovative ways to express themselves, whether it’s with sugar and butter or water and ink, I find a great deal of joy in both.

Young children mimic so much of what they see us do and say, that a natural interest in cooking (a common activity in most homes) makes sense. At this young age, children also love to help and it sets them up for a sense of accomplishment when they are part of the team. They can directly see how their motions are changing something, similar to how a child may view mixing paint to change the colors or making marks on paper. In a world that is so new to them and which they don’t have much direct control of, these little accomplishments go a long way.

One thing I often hear families say about the Philly Art Center is they appreciate it’s a safe space to try things, experiment with process, and to get “arty” … I totally agree! There are a lot of fun recipes you can make with your child at home, both as a sensory activity and a cooking activity – an art activity! Here are some of my favorites.

Salt Dough

This is an old standby. It’s simple, non-toxic, edible (though not so yummy), and uses common household ingredients.

  • 1 cup Flour, plus extra
  • 1 cup Salt
  • ½ cup Warm water, plus extra
  • Hawaiian Punch powdered drink packet
  • Various tools for cutting, pressing and drawing

Have kids help you measure each ingredient. In a large bowl, have them mix the salt and warm water. They should stir it well to help dissolve the salt (it makes for a smoother dough, if you want more grit, use cold water and mix dry ingredients first).

Slowly pour in the flour, adding a little at a time to make mixing easier and to gauge the sticky-ness. If it is too sticky, add more flour. If it is not sticky enough, add more water. This is such a great sensory exploration, and a chance to communicate with your child about different textures: sticky, pasty, dry, gritty … I usually just dump it onto a table with a little flour sprinkled on the surface to knead it and get right into playing with it.

Adding food coloring can happen with the salt and water, or after all ingredients are mixed together, it can be a good motor skill to encourage kids to mix the color evenly in the dough. If you have cookie cutters, bottle caps, paper towel tubes, they can be fun to explore with and will encourage younger children to identify the shapes they are making.

Salt dough will keep for about a week in an airtight container. If you want to bake these to keep as whatever sculpture your artist has created, simply bake them in the oven at 200*F for about an hour. Don’t foget to paint them after they’ve cooled!

Cinnamon Applesauce Sculptures

These smell amazing and are a great homemade holiday ornament project.

  • 2 Cups Applesauce
  • 2 Cups Cinnamon
  • 1 Tablespoon Glue (optional)
  • Cookie Cutters
  • Household Objects for Stamping and Cutting

Have children help you measure – this is a great opportunity to develop math language as well as measure and think critically as they compare each ingredient. Pour ingredients together in a large bowl and mix away! Be a careful the cinnamon doesn’t take flight; it can irritate some kid’s noses. If it’s too sticky, add more cinnamon, add more applesauce for a more gooey consistency.

Note: This is a great sensory art activity and smells terrific, but like our salt dough, doesn’t taste so great!

These can be rolled out like regular dough, and feel free to use cookie cutters or other household stamping objects. If you’re planning on hanging these, poke a hole (not too close to the edge) and, since these will shrink a bit, make the hole a little larger than your yarn/string.

Bake your final project for about 2 hours at 200*F. The trick is to keep the heat low and dry for a long time, if you do this in warm weather and have a sunny space to leave them for a day, they can also air dry.

Happy Home Art Cooking!

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