How to Make a Salt Dough Map

Updated on January 23, 2017

Hands-on Geography

How can a little flour, water, and paint become a fantastic hands-on geography project, full of educational benefits? With salt dough maps, that's how!

Get messy and make a 3D relief map of a country or state with these directions and pictures.

Our State: Alabama

The year we studied American history and made a 50 States Notebook was the same year that we created a state map from salt dough. It was a fun way to study the geography of a state. My daughter chose Alabama.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Completed salt dough map of AlabamaMixing up the salt doughputting salt dough on the map basespreading the doughforming rivers and mountainsforming riverspainting riverssalt dough map paintedadding place names
Completed salt dough map of Alabama
Completed salt dough map of Alabama
Mixing up the salt dough
Mixing up the salt dough
putting salt dough on the map base
putting salt dough on the map base
spreading the dough
spreading the dough
forming rivers and mountains
forming rivers and mountains
forming rivers
forming rivers
painting rivers
painting rivers
salt dough map painted
salt dough map painted
adding place names
adding place names

Salt Dough Recipe

4 cups of flour

2 cups of salt

2 cups of water

2 tablespoons of cream of tartar

Mix with your hands (that's the fun part) until the consistency of playdough. Add more water or flour as necessary.

Step-by-Step Directions

First you need an outline map. Here are my two absolute favorite online map sources:

1. Education Place Outline Maps

2. World Atlas Maps

Put the outline onto a sturdy base of cardboard. We chose to cut out our map and affix it directly to the cardboard. You could draw an outline onto the cardboard, or use carbon paper to trace the outline on from a printed map.

We chose to paint our cardboard first. It ended up getting a bit dusty when the dough was applied, but it was okay.

Besides an outline map, you'll need a physical map as well for forming mountain ranges, rivers, and other landforms.

We made a batch of salt dough while the paint dried: 4 cups flour, 2 cups water, 2 cups salt, and 2 Tbsp. cream of tartar. (The cream of tartar is optional, but does make your dough smooth and less likely to crack.)

Then "Sprite," my daughter, began applying a layer of dough to the outline of Alabama.

She didn't need any help in this process. In fact, I asked her how she would teach someone to do this, and these are the steps she gave me.

1. Get a clump of dough.

2. Make if flat in your hands.

3. Put it on a bare place of the map.

4. Press it down and smooth the edges into any dough already there.

5. Keep pressing it flat to cover more of the map and go right to the edges.

6. You can even use your playdough tool to smooth it out.

Then, once all of Alabama was covered with salt dough, we studied the physical map and identified the mountainous areas. Then Sprite used more dough to build up those areas.

Finally she used this fun playdough tool to make riverbeds in the map.

Before leaving it to dry overnight, we used a toothpick to make holes where we want to place flags identifying various cities, rivers, and mountains. After drying overnight (not totally dry, by the way) Sprite painted the dough.

First the rivers.

Then the land.

And finally detail for the mountains.

Because our cardboard base got a little dusty from the forming the dough, we brushed off the crumbs with a dry brush, and Sprite gave it a final coat of paint.

Here she is with her finished product. The only thing it lacks are the toothpick flags to label the cities, rivers, and mountains.

We used adhesive paper to make the flags. (Of course, if you don't have any, you can simply use glue to hold the paper together.) I drew some outlines of flags, and Sprite wrote in the place names. We cut out the flags, removed the backing from the adhesive paper, and placed a toothpick in the center.

By folding the paper over, you capture the toothpick inside and make a great flag for the salt dough map. I made a FREE printable salt dough map flag template, and you can get it right below this next picture.

Educational Benefits

Is playing with playdough really learning? Well, yes it can be. And here are the ways.

  • If your children read the recipe and make the dough, that builds reading and math skills.
  • This is fun! Motivation is increased with hands-on learning activities.
  • Kinesthetic and tactile learners learn through doing.
  • Your children are sure to remember the topography and outline of whatever area they choose to map with salt dough.

Blank Map Outlines, United States and World

Blank Map Outlines, United States and World
Blank Map Outlines, United States and World
This book contains up to date maps of countries throughout the world, plus a separate map of each state of the United States. Since the maps are blank, they can be tailored to fit individual class needs.These map outlines were designed to supplement a comprehensive study of the world or the United States.


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