Have you ever made 3D salt dough maps? We are getting ready for our school’s International Week at our house, and I have volunteered to set-up tables for Ethiopia and Mexico, and also will contribute to the China table. This weekend we began to make some materials for our “touch tables.” You might have seen 3D Salt Dough Maps before- they are made by mounting self-hardening dough onto cardboard, forming the mountains and other physical landforms, and then allowing it to dry so you can paint it. Kids (and adults!) learn just as much in the process- or more– than from the final product, and you end up with a beautiful, handmade display item that is just perfect for an International Week at school.
Step 1: Make the Dough for the Salt Dough Maps
Using their hands, have your kids mix together 4 cups of flour, 2 cups of salt, 2 cups of water, 2 tablespoons of cream of tartar.
Step 2: Print, Cut Out the Outline, Trace the Country
Look on-line for printable maps: Eduplace has it organized by state, country, or continent. If you want to be able to print larger maps, I used YourChildLearns maps, where you can specify the map to fit on 1 page, 4 pages (2×2), 9 pages (3×3), up to 64 pages! That’s a big map… and a lot of dough! We chose 4 pages, and taped them together, and cut them out. I realized that you don’t have to be extremely careful cutting out the intricate bays and jagged coastline. Just have the kids do their best and it will turn out fine. Once it is cut out, trace the outline onto your cardboard, and remove the paper map.
Step 3: Press the Dough onto the Map
Have your kids take balls of the dough and flatten them into the outline you have traced. I pulled up pictures of “physical maps” on my computer of their countries/continent so that could see the landforms. First make the map flat, and slowly build up the elevation according to the maps you find on-line.
Step 4: Paint the Salt Dough Maps According to the Elevation
When the dough is dry (ours took a couple of days because it was very humid here), it is time to paint. If you are making a physical map, as we did here, the different colors represent changes in elevation, and NOT vegetation. For example, green signifies lowlands, not tropical forests. Normally blue is water, green is the lowest land, yellow is climbing in elevation and brown is mountainous. The highest peaks of the mountains are sometimes red, purple, or white. Make sure to include important rivers and other bodies of water. Have your kids paint a “key” to tell the viewers what each color means for them.
There are different ways to finish the maps: some people like to place little pins in the dough before it has hardened to label landforms or major cities. Outside the salt dough maps on the cardboard, I might have my children label the countries that border their country. However you decide to do it, there is so much to learn while making the maps with your kids. My daughter was so impressed by the amount of mountains Mexico has, and she had to check our “real” physical map upstairs to see if the was adequately making a wide enough mountain range… My son loved to see the beginning of the Nile River in his home country of Ethiopia… My daughter loved to form the mountains on Madagascar, and asked how an island could have mountains. My other son wanted to know why China has a small peninsula coming off in the northwest (North and South Korea!).
As much as we learned, I am going to be honest about the best part of this project. Finishing it up, my 4 year old said “Mommy, I LOVE doing projects with you! And I love when they take a long time. Can we do it again??” Melts my heart. “Of course!! I’m going to think of an even longer one, just for you:).”
Super impressive! Your maps turned out so well!
Thanks!:) They are not totally accurate, but we really did learn a lot, and had fun doing them.
Lauren Kusch says
What did you use to attach the salt dough to the cardboard so it wouldn’t fall off?
We only pressed it in tight to the cardboard, and it stuck! I used the maps for 2 years before they started to disintegrate a bit.
What a great learning experience! They turned out so well! And it’s good that it was fun too! How observant they are!
Hi, I love your blog and all the ideas you share with us. I’m a black latin american living in France and me and my husband we are doing efforts to teach our kids the world diversity (with travels, books, sharing with mix families etc)
I apologize for my poor English. I would like to speak more to share more ideas in your blog…
Angela! I’m so glad to meet you- gracias por escribirme! También hablo español! Me encantaría hablar contigo- y ojalá que puedas compartir más ideas conmigo:). Mi correo electrónico es kidworldcitizen (arroba) gmail (punto) com.
Marian Williams says
Hi, love your post and have referred to your post in my post at http://physicalwebbing.blogspot.com.au/
Hope that is ok!
All the best,
Thank you for asking, and for linking up!
Thank you so much for your wonderful pictures! I’ve been researching how to make 3-D maps and discovered salt maps. Found alot of information and how-tos but no pictures. I really appreciate seeing the scale and size of cardboard you used as well as the wonderful results and those gorgeous happy faces! I will be applying your techniques in a project with 4-6 graders where I live here in Sweden.
You’re welcome!:) I would love to see pictures when you are finished. What a great project for that age- I think they will really enjoy it, and learn a lot in the process!
Thanks Linda! I’m setting up a gallery page of everyone who has been sending me pictures!
tina c says
Just saw your site. Great project! When I was in school I remember making one of Tn. Did you use self rising flour or plain? Does it matter? I don’t want to waste ingredients using the wrong flour. Thank you, Tina C
I used regular (non-rising) flour, but I don’t know if it would make a difference!:)
The salt map is sooooooo cool
Thank you so much that is just inspire me a lot for I never think of this way so easy to do and the color and 3D come out is so great!
thanks a lot!
I love these maps! I am doing one of Costa Rica with my Pre-K class for our international night at school. Just wondering if you have to glue the dough down to the board when it is dry or if it automatically adheres to the surface? I am using a piece of foam board for ours. Thanks for our idea, and advice!!
We didn’t glue it down and it stuck pretty well! After a year, we brought them out for International Week and the dough was pretty dried out and one was slipping off. I think for your purposes it will stick fine- have the kids smash it down on their papers:).
This is perfect! My son in 4th grade has to do a 3D map of Florida, and this is exactly the idea that we were looking for.
Yay!!! Share a picture on facebook if you think of it: http://facebook.com/kidworldcitizen 🙂
Where did you go to find the information for the landforms? Was there a specific site that had it color coded or did you all figure that on your own? Wonderful project!
Good question! For each of our maps, we googled “Mexico physical map” or “Africa physical map” etc. The colors are related to the elevation:).
I love this idea! I tried it with my girls and I must have been off with the recipe because it is still wet at least 8 days later. We are bummed. It actually seems to be expelling water and only getting wetter. Any suggestions from anyone?
Lenny Bunting says
Did you use a specific type of paint on the dough?
We just used acrylic paints!
i am thinking of doing a map of india like this hope it turns out well
do you have to use cream of tater
From what I understand, it will still work without the cream of tartar:).
Did these salt maps last year with my year 4 class. We had visiting Korean students at the time who also became involved… everyone loved it! We also wrote up the procedure involved from making the salt dough (where we incorporated maths measurement) to completing the 3D map. It was a very successful activity. Kids love hands on!
That is fantastic Helen!!! What a cool idea- I love that you engaged your 4 year olds and the Korean students, and integrated math into the geography lesson. A+++ for the teachers!!! 🙂
This was extremely helpful. My daughter is creating her South Carolina map now. She’s doing so well because of your detailed explanation. Thank you, Asante Sana, Medase pa.
That is awesome and amazing! Thank you so much
Hi, I really like this project and plan on doing with my students. I have a question. By rolling the dough directly on the cardboard, does it stick to the cardboard on its own once it dries or did you have to glue it down? Also, with you experience, do you think this would work with air dry clay?
I’m not sure about the air dry clay, but with the clay we did, it did stick to the surface just by pressing it down. It doesn’t last forever, but I kept it for a few years under my bed to bring out during International Week and it still looked great:).
I love this website, it has great resources for my students.
I am so glad! 🙂 Thank you!
Can you mix up the salt dough the night before and store it in a baggie to use the next day?
Yes!!! But make sure it is in an air tight container.
Marlene Smith says
What is the best paint to use?
Any acrylics worked fine for us!
Burke Seeberg says
Great 3D Dough Map! Approximately how much dough is made from that recipe? Enough to cover, say, a country printed on 4 pages?
Yes! That would be perfect!
When I was a kid in elementary school, we did a unit on geography and made our own salt dough maps of an imaginary world. We had a set of requirements for landforms and waterways to include (hills, mountains, valley, dessert forest, peninsula, bay, river, delta and lake are what come to mind. May have been more). It was so much fun, and inspired me to write stories about my imaginary land!
I love this!! That is such a fun way to reinforce landforms!
I love this! I am about to do a salt dough map of the state of Montana with my 4th grade class. I looked at yourchildlearns.com for maps, but I don’t see how to print them as multiple-page maps, to make them large enough to work with. Can you help me with that? Thanks!
Do you have to have cream of tartar or will it work without it? Thank you!
thank you for your wonder 3d salt dough map of africa.
this realy helped me in my project.