If you ever get a box with the packing peanuts made from cornstarch, don’t throw them away. Instead, save them for a rainy day activity. If you’re not sure if they’re the right kind, toss one in the sink and get it wet. It will either dissolve very quickly, or remain a lump of standard styrofoam. Question answered.
I have three favorite activities to do with these peanuts. All can be a little messy, but cleanup is very quick/easy. And it’s a good lesson in the importance of recycling – you get rid of the peanuts, and get to highlight how much cooler the dissolvable ones than those lame, no-fun, last-forever styrofoam ones. Although if you get styrofoam ones, don’t throw those away, either – you can save them up and then use them to stuff a beanbag chair later. Which is way better than letting them sit in a landfill.
Here are the crafts we’ve tried so far:
1) Just make them into goo. This is good for pretty much all ages. I give my daughter a large mixing bowl with a few inches of water in the bottom. I let her dump the peanuts in and squish them with her hands until they dissolve into slimy goo. I let her play with the goo. When she gets bored, the whole thing can safely go down the sink. Be sure to use a LOT of water to rinse them down, though, just to make sure you don’t leave any big clumps of cornstarch in your drain. Also, someone did this with an entire bathtub full of peanuts, and it looks really fun.
2) “Cotton ball” art. Did you ever make cotton ball sheep as a kid? You know, where you glued cotton balls to a piece of construction paper to form a sheep, then gave it some stick legs and a face? Or maybe you made a snowman out of the cotton balls as a Christmas present to take home from school for some lucky parent or grandparent. Well, you can do the same kind of thing with these peanuts, but without having to bother with the glue.
Use a small bowl of water or wet sponge to lightly dampen the end of a peanut, and stick it to paper to make a sheep, abominable snowman, cloud, or your choice of fluffy 3-D art thing. Or you can use some styrofoam peanuts and actual glue, if you don’t have dissolvable peanuts.
3) Sculpture. Same idea as #2, but definitely use a sponge or wet cloth and go light on the water. Stick the packing peanuts to each other and build with them. Start little ones with easy things like snakes, and then work your way up to cats, aardvarks, orangutans, or whatever floats your boat.
Speaking of boats, it’s also fun to build packing peanut boats and then go float them somewhere (pond, puddle, kitchen sink, wherever) and watch them dissolve. I suppose you could watch your aardvark dissolve, too. You be the judge of how your kid will respond to his or her creation melting away on the water, though – some kids will find this fascinating, others will bawl their little hearts out to see their beloved artwork destroyed. A great, detailed blog post with instructions for this can be found here.
What am I missing here? Do you have any other fun activities for dissolvable packing peanuts?
If you are concerned about the safety of working with these, this site has a good FAQ section about the peanuts.