Toddler digging activity that's not dusty
March 18, 2023 2:06 PM   Subscribe

My kiddo was given this rock-collecting kit that includes a brick of some kind of chalky material to dig in with a wooden chisel. He loves it, but it creates a ton of fine dust. What can I make that recreates the digging, but with less dust?

My kid liked the rocks hidden inside the brick, but even after the rocks were found, the main appeal was actually chiselling the material into dust. The action of digging in this stuff is satisfying because it takes some actual strength to make a dent - and when you do, it crumbles into a fine chalk or plaster like dust which is fun for a kid but seems like a terrible type of airborne particulate. I don't mind the mess, I'm just wary of us breathing in the dust.

What can I use to create a similar experience? Something I can make at home would be great. Maybe a mixture of wax and flour?
posted by nouvelle-personne to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total)
How about a block of ice, inspired by this activity.

I used to go soap carving with young girl scouts - not sure how much work it would be to create your own bar in treasures inside.
posted by metahawk at 2:36 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]

I think this is exactly what kinetic sand (which every child I’ve ever known has been obsessed with) is for? They have a bunch of different kits; some are more for the sensory aspect but I’ve seen a few that are specifically geared towards digging for stuff.
posted by lovableiago at 4:42 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]

Best answer: alas we have kinetic sand and it's fun but wouldn't be at all satisfying in a scrape and dig kind of way - it's really soft and squishy

Absurd thought - what about baking some items into a really dry bread or scone. I have definitely bungled some food creations and created baked goods with that hard as a rock texture..

Or you could incase some rocks in homemade playdoh and let that dry out, that shit gets haaaaaard.
posted by stray at 5:13 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]

My kid’s preschool would do “archaeological digs” with toy dinosaurs buried in the sandbox, which was always a hit!
posted by centrifugal at 5:24 PM on March 18

Or here's a tutorial for doing it with corn starch (the author mentioned trying it as a riff on doing it with plaster of paris, which I think is a bad idea - some toxicity).
posted by stray at 5:49 PM on March 18

My kid loved making paper mâché piñatas with me, forming the plaster over a balloon.It was just newspaper strips dipped into flour and water. So I bet this could be a fun project to do together, using lots of the flourpaste-newspaper strips molded over a rock, and then after it dries and hardens your kid could have at it.
posted by ojocaliente at 5:57 PM on March 18

Best answer: I imagine that if you soaked the block in water, or even wet the surface with a spray bottle, it wouldn't make any appreciable amount of dust.
posted by AugustusCrunch at 10:53 PM on March 18

Best answer: You could melt paraffin (available with the canning supplies in many grocery stores) or microwaveable candle wax and pour it over a bunch of interesting things in, say, a pie pan. This would create wax shavings which are annoying to clean up, but you wouldn't be breathing them. You can also get melt-and-pour soap that works similarly, and that's easy to clean up (and makes everything cleaner!)

I was also thinking the classic instant pudding dessert where you partially bury gummy worms in pudding and Oreo crumb "dirt."
posted by blnkfrnk at 10:56 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I think melt and pour soap will be perfect, maybe with coarse cornmeal mixed in for crumbliness and gritty texture.

Hard bread dough experimentation will be my second choice.

And yup, water spray would have helped if I’d thought of it yesterday.

Thanks for the advice, everyone!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 6:54 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]

We got a block of wood and started some nails in it for our boys to hammer away at. When he's done digging, he might like to try hammering.
posted by Enid Lareg at 7:16 AM on March 19

As a kiddo who made scrimshaw out of soap for a couple of years, I can attest to the joy of chiseling the stuff! Solid-gold pro tip, blnkfrnk. Thanks for this question, nouvelle-personne! This is going in my aunty-toolkit for sure.
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 10:16 AM on March 19

Can you have him empty the cat's litter box?
posted by grog at 6:08 PM on March 19

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