Hello, all! My name is Nichole, manager and nanny here at Bayou Time. This is the first of what I hope will be many blog posts to come. Is there anything you’d like us to blog about? Let me know in the comments?
Today I want to share with you a fun and easy activity to do with children aged about 9 months up to adult. What is it? Dying pasta for art and sensory play! I’d seen pasta dyed many times in my years of childcare, but I’d never actually done it myself. Then, just a few weeks ago, as I was meandering around Whole Foods, I came across the most awesome shaped pasta I had ever seen! The pasta was shaped like alligators, fleur de lis, and crawfish—Louisiana themed pasta. How fun is that?
The next step was to investigate how to get the job done. Google, away! The two dye setting agents I came across were vinegar and rubbing alcohol. As the little one I nanny is about 13 months old, I felt that using vinegar was the best option, just in case she decided to see how it felt in her mouth. A very good friend of mine, who is also a former early childhood educator, says she prefers to use rubbing alcohol because it makes the colors more vibrant. My suggestion would be to take into consideration the age of the child you’re working with. Older children will understand that they cannot put the pasta in their mouths after it has been dyed, but younger ones will not.
While the little one, let’s call her C, was asleep, I got everything set up, following some guidelines from http://happyhooligans.ca (lots of fun ideas on this blog!). I mixed one tablespoon of white vinegar with about 1/8th of a teaspoon of Wilton’s cake decorating food coloring. (The day after I did this with C I did it with another child and used Betty Crocker’s gel food colors to similarly good results.) You’ll have to play with the amount of food coloring you add depending on how bright you want your colors to be. We went with green, yellow, and purple for the fleur de lis, green for the gators, and red for the crawfish.
I’d be lying if I told you I had any clue exactly how much pasta I used. A couple of handfuls of each. You can always add more vinegar/color if you need to, or drain the excess, come to that. I put the pasta in containers that had tight closing lids. After C was up from her nap, I smocked her up and sat her down. I let her smell the vinegar/color mixture and let her watch me pour it in. (More about doing this with older children later.) I snapped closed the bowls and gave them to C to shake. After a couple minutes of shaking, which C REALLY enjoyed, I would pour the contents of the bowls onto wax paper-lined baking sheets. (A small square of wax paper was a fun little sensory tool for C to crumple and shake while she was waiting for me to pour out bowls.)
C’s family’s dining room is equipped with a ceiling fan that goes very fast, so I put the pans of pasta under it while C and I set about our other daily activities. The pasta was completely dry in a few hours. I went in a couple times and moved it around just to make sure it dried evenly and quickly. When I did this same project the next day, the family I was with did not have a ceiling fan I could put the pasta under, and it was far too humid out that day for me to put it outside to dry. Thus, I set their oven to 170 degrees and put the pasta in on foil. The pasta dried in about 3 hours. I learned a very important lesson, though: make sure you have enough space that each piece of pasta is resting flat on the pan and not touching anything else. Thankfully, I pulled it out about 1.5 hours in and pulled them apart. Happy Hooligans says they put theirs next to a fire. They also live in Canada. Fire isn’t much of an option here, outside an oven. Again, if you can put the pasta under a fan, please do!
For the most part, the finished pasta turned out great—the purple, not so much. I used the Wilton’s violet gel with the pasta I dyed with C and just got a medium blue color in the end. I tossed it with some red, but that just made it a navy blue color. When working with the Betty Crocker gel colors, I had to mix the red and blue and got black. I added some more red and a little more vinegar. That turned out to give a very deep purple color. Better than nothing, huh? All of this to say: you might be out of luck if you’re hoping for a good purple color.
After the pasta is dry, it’s good for sensory play until it falls apart. Dried pasta can last for years! As for art, I recommend using white school glue to adhere it to paper. (Instead of, say, just having the kids stick it in tempera paint.)
About doing this project with older children: I was an early childhood teacher for eight years, and while I had never done this project in particular with kids, I’ve done plenty like this. This project is a great multi-sensory, multi-skill experience. Allow older kids to help you measure out the vinegar. Let them stir the food coloring into the vinegar and then pour it onto the pasta. Ask them to put the lids on the bowl and then pour the contents out. Older children love to help with these kinds of things!