There's no need to buy expensive materials for your kids to enjoy making models that they can keep or give away as gifts on special occasions. Salt dough is a cheap, homemade substance that is completely safe for kids to handle. It can be heat-dried to make permanent objects.
Making and baking the dough
Mix 237 g (1 cup) of salt and 250 g (2 cups) of flour with up to 237 ml (1 cup) of lukewarm water. The amount of water required will depend slightly on the atmospheric humidity, so add it a bit at a time until the dough is not too sticky, runny or dry. Try shaping a little of the dough into a ball as a test. Roll it between your hands to make the ball. If the dough cracks apart too easily, it is too dry. If it sticks to your hands and won't stay in shape, it is too wet and needs more flour. To harden after shaping, microwave the dough on high for two minutes; bake in the oven on low for 30 minutes or leave it on a heater for one to two days until dry.
Kids like to give a homemade functional object as a gift. An ashtray-shaped salt dough item with a tealight in the centre will make a night light for nonsmokers. Kids can paint the hardened night light with food dyes or suitable, nonflammable, nontoxic paints. Help them shape the night light from a large ball of salt dough, flattening the bottom on the work surface. They can push their fists into the top of the dough to make the bowl-shaped night light body. A tealight pressed into the base will make the perfect indent to hold the candle in place. Shape the object further to make a shallow bowl for grandma's rings and earrings or a taller, deeper cup for a pencil-holder for granddad.
Pendants, broaches and fridge magnets
Pendants, broaches and fridge magnets can all be made in similar ways. Roll the dough flat with a rolling pin to the desired thickness. Use biscuit or pastry cutters to stamp out dough shapes. Hearts, stars, circles, triangles and flower shapes are all ideal shapes. Add texture and depth by "drawing" patterns with a sharp pencil or skewer or by sticking on smaller dough pieces. Make a hole near the top of pendants with a skewer and thread them onto long leather laces. Tie the lace ends together at the desired length and trim. Push flat magnets or safety pins into the back of the other items accordingly, or buy specially made accessories from craft stores. Decorate after hardening.
Christmas tree ornaments can be made in a similar way to the badges and pendants, using Christmas-themed biscuit cutters. Tie the ornaments to the tree by making a hole near the top and threading them with narrow green or red ribbon. Heart-shaped biscuit cutters are useful for Valentine ornaments. Easter egg shapes are easy to make by elongating a hand-rolled ball. Handcrafted rabbits are likely to cause a laugh, along with hand-shaped reindeer, Santas, and fruit and vegetables at Harvest Festival.