Friday, March 30, 2012

Salt Dough Fossils with the Magic Tree House Club

The girls have been having a fabulous time in their Currclick Magic Tree House club, their first online class:

Every month in Magic Tree House Club there are quizzes, small presentations based on facts from the books, and a project. Both girls LOVE it! Will has a little buddy who's also in the club, and they chat together in the club's chat room (each on their own computer in their own house across town from each other) before the meeting. During the meeting, the leader, who is live on her webcam, asks questions to the kids, and they can answer by typing. She'll often acknowledge individual children and their answers, and both girls seem to think it's pretty darn great to get your name said live on webcam. The club meets once a week, but all the meetings in the same month cover the exact same material from the exact same book; this is actually pretty convenient, because although Willow attended the first week's meeting in March, Syd was napping during that hour. Syd wanted to attend the second week's meeting instead, but it turned out to be gorgeous outside that day and I didn't have the heart to call her inside to sit at the computer for an hour when the club's meeting time rolled around. Instead, Syd attended the third week's meeting, and Willow, who'd already done the entire thing weeks ago, was still drawn back in and stood beside her the entire time, helping her type her answers.

For March, the club read Dinosaurs before Dark--there were presentations on Pennsylvania and a few of the dinosaurs mentioned in the book, and a demonstration on making salt dough fossils. We waited to do these until after Syd had attended her club meeting, too, but in the week since, we have done this project THREE TIMES!

Yeah, it's fun.

You can probably figure out the premise on your own: fossils are impressions left by organisms or artifacts, and salt dough, since it's transformed by baking to be solid (reminiscent, sort of, to the way that fossils are made permanent in nature--not by the same process, of course, but it gives you the idea of how it can come about), can be used as a model to make impressions and show off the resulting fossils.

You'll need plenty of salt dough (here's my favorite salt dough recipe). While the salt dough shouldn't be crumbly, of course, it should be on the dry side, since if it's at all sticky it will pull at the artifact as you're lifting it up and thus won't make a true impression. Using my favorite recipe, I still kneaded in at least another 1/4 cup after it was otherwise mixed, until the salt dough felt perfectly smooth and slightly stiff. It also helps to refrigerate the dough for a few hours first, so you can feel free to make it ahead of time.

Tear off a piece of salt dough, roll it into a ball between your hands, and then flatten it with your hand right onto the baking sheet that you'll dry it on. Then you can press whatever artifacts you like--leaves, shells, toys, etc.--right into the dough, and lift them straight up again.

The girls did a few leaves and flowers, but it turns out that game piece fossils was really where the fun was at:


Scrabble tile

We poked a straw completely through the dough at the top of the fossils to make a hole in case we wanted to hang them later, and then we dried them in a 200-degree oven for over two hours. 

I like my salt dough to be REALLY dry, so I let these actually begin to brown before I took them out:

And when they're finished, you can paint them!

Have I mentioned yet this Spring how thrilled I am to be back to doing all our messy crafts OUTDOORS?!? I remember when Sydney was a baby and how I'd never felt more joyful than I did at simply being able to allow her to eat her yogurt outside.

Because the baking is a little unpredictable, the salt dough fossils don't always turn out perfectly. Some, for example, can rise a bit, distorting the impression. It's great when this happens, though, because it demonstrates the fact that real fossils DO distort, and the result can look very different from the original impression.

periwinkle flower, now nearly unidentifiable

Do you like this little table that Matt dumpster-dived for me a few weeks ago?

Of course, I have to be over-the-top, so I added glitter to my fossils while the paint was still wet:

That particular fossil is now hanging from our key rack.

As for the other fossils, I'm not sure if we'll actually DO anything with them, but don't they look marvelous, all lined up in a row?

I can't believe it, but we made salt dough fossils AGAIN yesterday. This time, the kittens helped, but that's a story for another post.

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