Raised from Scratch

growing up outside the box: alternatives to processed food and television

Easy Peasy Clay Ornaments December 21, 2012

food dye coloring before drying

heart clay ornament

assorted homemade clay ornaments

We’ve been making these ornaments for weeks now – all from one batch of clay. Apparently the clay mixture will stay malleable so long as it is refrigerated. I haven’t tested this to the full extent and don’t know at what point you’d have to throw it out, but we’ve had some clay for over two weeks that we can still pull out of the refrigerator any time we feel like making an ornament or two. It definitely makes a good project to keep on hand for kids over the holiday break, and it’s one in which even toddlers can participate.

To color these ornaments I experimented with food dye (which I never use in food) and tempera paint. The food dye was fun to work with and use as a watercolor paint, but the colors fade a lot after the clay dries, so ultimately I recommend using real paints in place of, or in addition to food dye. Glitter glue worked quite nicely to jazz up some of the plain ornaments, and we got creative using wires, string and beads to make hangers.

multicolored paint swirl ornament

cooking christmas clay ornaments 1

To make clay, combine in a medium saucepan:

2 cups baking soda (1 box)

1 cup cornstarch

1  1/2 cups water


  • Stir frequently with a wooden spoon while cooking over medium heat about 10 minutes, then stir constantly another 5 minutes until dough is too thick to stir with a spoon. Remove from heat.
  • Once cool enough to touch, knead dough by hand until smooth, about 3-5 minutes. If you want dyed clay, add food coloring while kneading. Keep wrapped in plastic until ready to use. Store any clay intended for future use tightly wrapped in the refrigerator.

cooking christmas clay ornaments 2

flourless clay after kneading

Above: What clay should look like after kneading

Below: Ella mixes green food coloring into her clay

making green flourless clay

  • To cut ornaments: gather cookie cutters, a rolling pin, some extra cornstarch to dust cutting surface, something to poke a hole in your ornament (toothpick or chopstick work well), and a cookie sheet to place ornaments to dry. You can roll your clay directly on the plastic wrap you kept it moist in, or a cutting board works well.
  • Generously dust work surface with cornstarch. Roll out clay to desired thickness (no thinner than 1/4 inch and I’d recommend erring on the thick side because we broke a few of ours), cut with cookie cutters, re-roll extra clay and repeat as many times as necessary. Use cornstarch to keep cookie cutters and rolling pin from sticking to the clay. After forming ornaments, poke a hole in each before allowing to dry.
  • Ornaments will take between 1 and 2 days to fully dry if left at room temperature! Or you can bake them at 250 F for about 1 hour. 

cutting ornaments

cut ornaments left to dry

Above: poking holes in ornaments left to dry on cookie sheet
Below: Ella uses food coloring to “paint” her ornaments before allowing them to dry (color will fade after drying)

painting with food dye

painting with tempera

Above: Ella uses tempera paints for dried snowflakes

assorted clay ornaments heart stamps

Above and below: what painting with food coloring looks like while clay is still damp

Ella's ornaments dyed with food coloring

yellow and red circle ornaments snowflake cutouts

glitter glue ornaments

Above: ornaments were decorated with silver glitter glue after allowing painted ornaments to dry completely

2012 snowflake ornament on tree

Above and below: stamps can be used to imprint ornaments while clay is still damp. I wrapped green ribbon around an empty ribbon spool and used crafting wire to hang this ornament.

2012 snowflake ornament

Below: assorted ornaments with wire hangers and decorative beads

line of snowflake ornaments


Original inspiration for clay ornaments from: Busy Bee Kids Crafts


Gettin’ Crafty For Christmas! December 4, 2012


button snowflake ornament

It can be hard to find crafts that are truly appropriate for a toddler’s attention span. I tend to plan too much and end up helping more than I anticipated, but this ornament is not overly ambitious, and it was recently tested on 4 toddlers while I hosted a Christmas crafts and cocoa playdate. I do wish I hadn’t been so wrapped up with hosting that I neglected to take pictures of the kids’ snowflake creations because they were simply beautiful, with globs of glitter glue, colorful pom-poms, sparkly gold and silver stars, bells and assorted buttons. Here I just have two ornaments to show you, mine and Ella’s, though we might make more before Christmas arrives because this craft project is so easy and so much fun.

dating ornaments with stamps

I hope to someday have a tree full of homemade and memory filled ornaments adorning our tree, so dating them seemed appropriate. Our set of little alphabet and number stamps have come in so handy this past year – from making birthday cards, practicing the alphabet, and making impressions on clay to now dating our lovely popsicle snowflakes.

homemade popsicle snowflake ornaments on tree

Step 1: Glue 3 popsicle sticks, painted or plain, into snowflake design (I used a glue-gun but craft/tacky glue should work too).

Step 2: Use craft/tacky glue to attach buttons, pom-poms, confetti, beads, bells, etc. If you want to hang the ornament from a button, leave the holes of one button exposed at one end of your snowflake.

Step 3: After allowing time for the glue to dry, tie a colorful string to your button, or glue wire or ribbon to make a hanger.


Homemade Toddler Lacing Cards November 12, 2012

Here’s a very quick craft that helps kids develop sewing skills and hand-eye coordination. Recently my daughter has felt compelled to remove her shoelaces and practice lacing as soon as I ask her to put her shoes on to leave the house. Next time we’re running late I’m going to suggest lacing a star instead so we can get out of the house on time, and we can practice lacing shoes when we get home. Only seems fair to offer her a substitution if I plan to ask her to leave her shoelaces in place, right? Even better, maybe I should cut out a cardboard shoe tomorrow so she can practice the criss-crossing pattern.

All you need: cereal boxes or equivalently thin cardboard, paint, permanent marker or pen to draw an outline, cookie cutters or stencils (optional), scissors, hole puncher, string or yarn, tape

Paint your cardboard and let dry completely. Draw shapes using cookie cutters, stencils, or your good old imagination, cut out shapes, and punch holes. Tie one end of the string on to the shape and wrap a small piece of tape around the other end to give the kids something sturdy to hold on to and push through the holes. Voila, you just saved $10 and shared a crafty experience with your child.

Store them on the refrigerator for an activity to occupy the kids while you’re cooking.

My little one really liked stringing the cards together for a makeshift kite, which we proceeded to “fly” in the breeze of our floor fan while singing “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” from Mary Poppins.


Toddler Geography Fun – Coffee Regions October 14, 2012

All you need: A world map (I use a laminated one, but this is totally optional), a glue stick, and some coffee beans

Every time we buy a new bag of coffee beans I take Ella over to the coffee map that hangs on the dining room wall and let her place a bean, marking the country where the coffee was grown. If there’s already one there, she will sometimes insist on replacing it with a new one, or we just savor the aroma of the freshly roasted beans we’re holding and talk about the countries and continents that are marked on our map. It’s so much fun decorating maps with a specific focus, and I’ll be decorating another one with seeds or whole spices in the near future. By introducing regions of the world with things Ella can hold, smell and taste, I’m hoping to capitalize on her senses to reinforce the geography lesson.

You might find this strange, but Ella has always been a fan of coffee. It may be because we took her traveling around the country when she was 8 months old and she was exposed to some of the finest coffees roasted around the U.S. (at this point she was only smelling them of course). As we drove through a hot summer and into the fall, and our car’s air conditioner recycled the blissful coffee aroma for seven months, we had only two major goals: to find a new city we’d be happy moving to, and to try as many highly rated U.S. coffee roasters as possible. Because we were living on the road, we’d have the roasters grind our coffee selection for our french press. With every sunrise, Ella and I would stretch out from our cramped sleeping positions in the car (sometimes we’d be lucky enough to have found a place to set up a tent, but frequently it was just too hot to sleep without a/c) to set up our camp stove, boil some spring water and wait to taste our latest find. Road tripping with a baby can be really magical, and I savor the memories of those quiet moments in the dawn’s light when baby Ella and I both marveled and cooed at the world’s beauty while waiting to press the coffee.

By the time Ella was 16 months old she was grabbing coffee bags off store selves to give them a good squeeze under her little nose without any encouragement from us. By 2 years old she was sneaking the last sips left behind in abandoned coffee mugs, and now at 3 she frequently asks for her own cup. Now, even though she likes sipping black coffee, her own cup consists of 80% – 90% milk and totals no more than 4 oz because I’m not about to willingly caffeinate my toddler. I don’t, however, see anything wrong with raising her to have an appreciation of fine coffees, or dark chocolate for that matter.

And in case you’re wondering, the coffee roasters which made it to the top of our list after 7 months of travel are:

#1 Coava Coffee Roasters from Portland, OR

#2 (a tie) Intelligentsia Coffee (for dark roasts) and Meteropolis Coffee Company (for light and medium roasts), both from Chicago, IL

Purely by coincidence, we moved to Chicago, and plan to move to Portland when our Chicago adventures are through.


The Tree of Gratitude – A Fall Art Project October 6, 2012

Above you see our tree after 1 week of family musings around the dinner table.  At the beginning or end of our meal we each pick out a colorful leaf and write something we are grateful for before hanging it on the tree, which is mounted to a wall behind our dining room table, where we see it throughout the day. It’s beautiful, and makes me smile whenever I look at it. Ella usually tells me she’s thankful for trees, rocks, food, chocolate cake, or whatever happens to be in her hand at the time. Josh, my husband, is thankful for things like puns. I usually write something which made my day happier, like walking on the cold beach with my daughter, or getting to listen to 2 hours of radiolab while Ella was in preschool, or dance parties, which are invaluable when I’m parenting alone for a full day and night while Josh is busy with grad school projects. It really doesn’t take long to see a tree full of leaves and gratitude.


3 – 4 Thin cardboard cereal boxes

Tempera paints and brush or sponge

Tree trunk material such as extra cardboard, felt, fabric or paper

Tacky glue or a glue gun, poster putty or tape

Scissors, sharpie or permanent black maker

Step 1: Gather empty thin cardboard boxes, such as cereal or kleenex boxes, a sharpie (I use a thin tipped sharpie) and scissors. Use a pencil, pen or sharpie and draw a leaf pattern you like and cut out ONE to use for tracing. Don’t make it too complicated because you’ll want to make lots of leaves and will have to spend some time cutting them out. In this picture you’ll see I made two leaf patterns and went with the three tipped leaf.

Step 2: Open your cardboard boxes and lay them flat. Using a sharpie or other black permanent marker, trace your leaf pattern onto the inside of your cardboard boxes, fitting as many leaves as possible. It’s important to use a dark marker because you’ll want to paint the boxes before cutting out your leaves, and will need to be able to see your outline through the paint. (I traced the leaf while my 3 year old was napping, then waited for her to wake up and help me paint.)

Step 3: Using tempera paint, cover your leaves in fall colors. We mixed paints right on the cardboard and had fun experimenting with different brush strokes to make interesting patterns. We also grabbed a piece of yellow chalk (totally optional) and scraped some chalk dust onto the red and orange leaves while the paint was still wet – makes it look like pollen and gives it a great texture. I wasn’t crazy about the color yellow we had after one coat, so for the yellow leaves I added a bit more yellow, and one drop of green on some of the leaves and using a palette knife (a finger laid flat or a pencil should work as well) swirled the colors, incorporating just a little green to make them more vibrant. You can see the result in the completed leaf pictures below. Allow to fully dry before cutting.

Step 4: While the leaves are drying, create a tree trunk with branches for your leaves to adorn. I used one of those thin corrugated cardboard papers liquor stores place around a bottle of wine to protect it. You can use anything – another cardboard box painted brown, felt, fabric, whatever you have lying around the house. Make the tree trunk large – it fills up fast. I probably should have added more branches, but I ran out of the corrugated brown paper I was using. Attach branches with Tacky glue or a glue gun. Allow to dry flat for several hours if using Tacky glue.

Step 5: Cut out your leaves. Obviously, with small toddlers this will just be the work of the adult, but it went pretty fast.

Step 6: Hang your tree where the whole family will see it, and start filling it with leaves of gratitude! I used Tacky glue to hang our tree trunk on a large piece of white paper, then attached the paper to the wall with poster putty. If you have lots of poster putty you could just use that to attach the tree and the individual leaves. Or tape everything to a full length window. Don’t let a lack of materials deter you from creating! We keep our leaves, Tacky glue and a thin sharpie together on our dining room table so they’re easily accessible. Have fun and happy fall!!