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Shake up your curriculum with salt


Dreading the summer doldrums? Looking for new learning activities without breaking your budget? The answer may be as close as your kitchen cabinet or the supermarket—salt.

Besides its wide availability, salt is cheap. Table salt and rock salt cost approximately a penny and a half an ounce, and Kosher or coarse salt, about 3 cents an ounce. Epsom salt is less than a nickel an ounce.

Using salt in learning centers adds variety to activities, but it can also create a mess and make the floor slippery. For safety and convenience in clean-up, spread newspaper or plastic sheeting over table tops and floors where children work.

For background, read “Salt: Discover the magic, but avoid the menace” in this issue. Then think about how the activities below may fit into children’s interests and your curriculum objectives.


Set table salt and rock salt on the science table. Use the store containers (the rock salt box may say “ice cream salt”). Having the boxes only half or one-quarter full can help avoid waste. Provide small bowls or recycled butter tubs with spoons so that children can spoon out a small quantity of each and explore.

Display photos of rock salt (the mineral halite) and salt mining copied from books or the Internet. Or set up a laptop that displays online images. See, for example, “The Strange Beauty of Salt Mines” at

Talk about each salt and compare texture and color. Ask how each might be used. If any children have been swimming in lakes or gone to the beach, ask them to compare how the water felt in their eyes and nose. Where does the salt in seawater come from?


Salty or sweet?
Here’s what you need:
table salt
two identical containers
cup of water
small spoons or craft sticks, one for each child


1. Pour a small amount of table salt in one container and sugar in the other. Ask children if there is any difference in color, granule size, smell, or other characteristics.
2. Switch the salt and sugar around several times, and invite one child to dip a spoon or craft stick first into water and then into one container and taste. Which substance is it?
3. Repeat with the remaining children. Ask why it’s important to tell the difference between salt and sugar. How do we usually recognize salt and sugar on a dining table at home or in a restaurant?

Note: To prevent the spread of germs, remind children to keep the craft stick out of their mouths until it’s time to taste, and to use a clean craft stick if they want to dip and taste again.


Does it dissolve?
Here’s what you need:
substances such as table salt, Epsom salt, and sugar
plastic containers such as recycled butter tubs, one for each substance
measuring cup


1. Pour about a cup of water into each container. Invite children to add about a half teaspoon of each substance to the water in the different containers and stir.
2. Observe what happens. If the substance disappears, we say it dissolves.
3. Vary the experiment by adding more of each substance to the same container of water. How much does it take to make the solution look cloudy (and less dissolved)?
4. Try dissolving other substances such as baking soda, flour, and oil. What happens with each?
5. Place the salt solution from Step 3 near a window to dry in the sun. Invite children to check the solution every day. As the water dries, we say it evaporates. Ask where the water goes. When all the water has evaporated, salt should be left behind.


Sensory table
Replace the sand in the sensory table with Epsom salt. Provide the usual sand tools, such as cups, funnels, spoons, and strainers, and encourage children to explore. For further interest, provide small figures of peoples, animals, houses, and cars. As another variation, wet the salt slightly and see if it can be formed into shapes such as balls and domes.


Ice block melt
Here’s what you need:
empty paper milk carton, quart or pint size, clean and dry
rectangular cake baking pan
box of coarse salt
food coloring in squeeze bottles


1. Fill the carton with water and place in freezer.
2. When the water has frozen, tear away the carton and place the ice block in the baking pan.
3. Invite children to sprinkle salt generously on the top of the block. Observe the top surface as it starts to melt.
4. Invite children to squeeze drops of food coloring on the salt. Observe the colors as they seep inside the block. Explain that salt makes ice melt faster. This is why salt is spread on icy roads and why we add rock salt to ice when making homemade ice cream.

Variation: Provide two ice blocks, and sprinkle salt on one but not the other. Which melts faster?


You’re undoubtedly familiar with salt dough, but what about allowing children to make it? Measuring the salt and mixing the dough provides an opportunity to talk about salt and how it contributes to the dough’s color and texture.


Salt dough
Here’s what you need:
1 cup salt
1 cup flour
½ cup water


1. In a large bowl, combine the salt and the flour.
2. Make a well in the salt-and-flour mixture and add the water. Knead until smooth and shape into a ball. For a softer dough, add more flour. Adding more salt will lend a grainy effect.
3. Invite toddlers to explore the texture and color of salt dough. Show them how to roll and pat the dough. Preschoolers may enjoy rolling the dough into worms or balls and using kitchen implements like a potato masher and rolling pin. Some children may want to make specific shapes using cookie cutters, jar lids, and muffin tins. Or press sea shells into squares of dough to make fossil-like imprints.
4. When not in use, wrap the dough in plastic or store in an airtight container.

Variation: To color the dough, add food coloring (paste coloring offers more vibrant color) or paint. Knead to get an even color. Another option is paint the shapes and sculptures after they have dried. Adding glitter to salt dough makes it sparkle.


Paint with salt
Here’s what you need:
white school glue in squeeze bottles
box of table salt
food coloring or watercolor paint mixed with water
eye dropper or small paintbrush
construction paper or cardstock


1. Invite children to squeeze the glue onto the paper in squiggles, lines, or a picture.
2. Sprinkle salt over the entire paper, and shake off the excess.
3. Drop food coloring or watercolor on the glue. Let dry.


Puff paint
Here’s what you need:
¼ cup salt
¼ cup flour
¼ cup water
tempera paint, primary colors
plastic squeeze bottles, one for each color
construction paper or cardstock


1. Mix salt, flour, and water in a bowl. Add a bit of tempera paint to achieve the desired hue. Empty into a plastic squeeze bottle.
2. Repeat step 1 for the other colors.
3. Invite children to squeeze the paint onto paper to make a design or picture.
4. Let the paint dry. It will be puffy.


Colored salt in jars
Here’s what you need:
colored chalk
plastic transparent jars and lids
small bowl


1. Pour salt into a bowl. Add a stick of chalk and stir. The more you stir, the darker the color.
2. Repeat for other colors.
3. Carefully spoon the different colors of salt into a jar to make different layers. Layers can be level or slanted, thick or thin. Screw on the jar lid.

Variation: Instead of chalk, use dry paint or tiny drops of liquid food coloring.


Use cooking activities to reinforce good nutrition as well as the social, cultural, and personal preferences evident in our food choices. Review the background information in Salt: Discover the magic, but avoid the menace in this issue of the Quarterly. For more information, see Nutrition and Wellness Tips for Young Children from the USDA at

The goal of this cooking activity is to demonstrate that snacks can be a healthy and tasty substitute for high-salt chips and other highly processed foods.

Children can make snacks on their own if you provide the instructions on a rebus chart. For each step, draw a picture or take a photograph using a digital camera or cell phone. Display the photos in order by stapling or pasting them to poster board. Start with a picture of hand washing.

The recipe below makes four servings. One serving represents approximately 150 milligrams of sodium (graham cracker half 45; cottage cheese 100). This might be a good time to introduce the nutrition labels on foods—in this case, the graham crackers and cottage cheese. Although children won’t be able to read the label, they can begin to recognize it by sight and understand its importance.


Fruit snack
Here’s what you need:
graham crackers
¼ cup low-fat cottage cheese sweetened with a teaspoon of preserves such as peach or apricot
½ cup of summer fruit, such as diced watermelon, cantaloupe, and peaches and fresh berries such as strawberries and blueberries
fresh mint leaves (optional)


1. Place half a graham cracker on a plate.
2. Spread 1 tablespoon of cottage cheese on the cracker.
3. Place 2 tablespoons of fresh fruit on the cottage cheese.
4. Place a mint leaf on top or at the side.

Variation: Instead of dicing fruit in advance, invite children to cut it up themselves. They can use plastic knives or a melon baller, for example. Change the fruit to match the season, such as apples and oranges in winter.


Stock the reading center with pictures, books, and magazine articles about salt. One book for school-agers, The Story of Salt by Mark Kurlansky, is a child’s version of the author’s book for adults. The text offers scientific and historical information about salt as well as a historical timeline, and the illustrations by S.D. Schindler provide background for learning activities.

Encourage school agers to learn more about salt on the Internet. In particular, explore early salt production in your community or state. You may find that names of towns, such as Grand Saline, Texas, and geographical features, such as Salt Creek, provide a clue about their origin and economy.


Writing in salt
Here’s what you need:
bag of Epsom salt
large baking pans or trays
alphabet letters
cards with printed words


1. Spread Epsom salt in the bottom of a baking pan.
2. Encourage children to trace alphabet letters, their names, or words in the salt.
3. Collect the used salt afterward and save it for a soothing foot or body soak after a tiring day.


Music consists of two types of sounds: those created by playing instruments as well as those made by singing or chanting. The activities below offer an example of each.


Rhythm band salt shaker
Here’s what you need:
small plastic water bottle with lid, recycled, clean, and dry
colored tape
rock salt
short lengths of colored ribbon or crepe paper (optional)


1. Decorate the water bottle with colored tape. Leave the bottom free of tape so children can see the rock salt inside.
2. Put about a tablespoon of rock salt into the bottle, and screw the lid on tightly. If the shaker will be used by small children, apply glue for a more secure attachment.
3. Tie four or five lengths of ribbon around the bottle neck.
4. Show children the rock salt in the bottle, and demonstrate how to use it (shaking to a beat, or shaking continuously).


Finger play
Mabel, Mabel, set the table. (Move hands like setting a table.)
Don’t forget the low-salt label. (Wag forefinger)
Serve the rice and beans and such. (Spoon out food.)
Add some salt, but not too much. (Shake salt and stop.)
Mabel, Mabel, it’s delicious. (Rub the tummy.)
Now let’s help to clear the dishes. (Brush hands together.)