down and dirty

Kids get down and dirty to learn about the world

If you're the type who goes nuts when your child has mud on his hands or paint in his hair, don't read this story. On second thought, read every word. For your child's sake--and your own sanity--it's time to rethink that moratorium on messes. "It's important for children to be able to explore the world with all their senses," says Shannon Scholler, director of early childhood education at Exploration Place in Wichita, Kan., and a former preschool teacher. "If we don't allow them to touch and feel things, they're not going to learn. They need to have the freedom to get messy once in awhile." That doesn't mean they have to destroy your furniture or their Sunday clothes. And it doesn't mean spending a single penny on new toys. Put on some old clothes. Leave your feet bare. Find a place that's easily cleaned, should anything splatter--on the kitchen floor, the driveway, even in the bathtub--or spread newspapers around.

Recipes for fun and exploration


Put cornstarch in the container. Add water and stir it carefully with a fork. Continue to stir even though it seems stiff.

When the mixture is thoroughly mixed, you have Oobleck. It should drip from your fork or fingers but should be solid if you try to poke your finger into it. If it seems to dry, add a drop or more of water; if it is too runny, let it sit for a few hours and stir again.

Let it drip through the tines of the fork. Drag your fingers through it to make a path. See what other things you can do with it. Have you ever seen such a strange mixture?

-- "Kid's Squish Book" (Marlor Press, 2002)

1 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup water
Flat plastic container, large enough for you to easily slip your hands inside and handle the Oobleck


Pour the glue and 1/2 cup water into a bowl. Mix together and add a few drops of food coloring, if desired.

Put 1/2 cup water into another bowl. Add Borax and mix well. Pour the glue mixture into the Borax mixture and stir.

You should have a thick mass in a liquid. When the glob seems to have formed into one chunk, pour off the rest of the liquid. You can make it thicker and drier by kneading, stretching and playing with it.

Let the mixture slowly pour from your hands. Try to pull it apart quickly and see how it breaks. When it gets drier, it will bounce. What else can you make it do?

-- "Kid's Squish Book" (Marlor Press, 2002)

2 bowls
4 ounces white school glue
1 cup water, divided
1 teaspoon Borax
Food coloring, optional

Homemade Silly Putty

Mix glue and starch until well combined. Add several drops of food coloring. Store in plastic bag or container.

--Shannon Scholler

1/2 cup white glue
1 cup liquid starch
Food coloring

Kool-Aid Play Dough

In a bowl, mix together flour, salt, Kool-Aid and cream of tarter. Add boiling water. Add oil. Mix thoroughly. Store in a plastic bag or container.

--Shannon Scholler

2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup salt
2 packages unsweetened Kool-Aid
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 cups boiling water
3 tablespoons vegetable oil