How to Make a Salt Dough Map

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Easy and fun to make, salt dough maps are a great visual aid for learning the geography of a country and a fun, hands-on tool for making history come alive.

How to Make a Salt Dough Map
We like to make our maps on pizza boxes. They’re sturdy, easily accessible (most pizza places are happy to give you one if you just ask) and the perfect size.

Ingredients Needed to Make a Salt Dough Map:

  • flour
  • water
  • one or two boxes of salt
  • a map of your country, enlarged to 11X17
  • tape
  • a pencil
  • a Sharpie marker
  • paint

How to Make a Salt Dough Map:

Step 1: Color the entire back of your map with a lead pencil to make the transfer to the pizza box easier to see.

salt dough map 2

Step 2: Lightly tape the map, pencil-shaded side down, to the inside of the pizza box (note from experience: don’t use packing tape!) and trace the outline of the map, bearing down fairly hard.
salt dough map 3

Step 3: Remove the map to reveal a light pencil outline. Trace this outline with the Sharpie marker.

salt dough map 4

Step 4 (optional): Spray paint the inside of the pizza box blue to create an ocean effect. If yours is a land-locked country, you might want to use a tan or green color to indicate land. You can paint over the Sharpie marker. As long as you don’t paint heavily, the outline will still be visible.

salt dough map 5

Step 5: Mix equal parts flour and salt together to make the salt dough. Mix just enough water to create a dough that is a Play-doh-like consistency. I usually use the entire box of salt, approximately 3-4 cups.

Place the dough on the pizza box and shape into the outline. When you’re finished, you can build the dough up to depict mountains and valleys, using a topographical map as a guide.

salt dough map 6

While most of your map should be basically to scale, having traced a printed map as your guide, it’s fun to add not-so-scaled highlights. For example, Brianna added The Leaning Tower of Pisa to our map of Italy (it’s the brown protrusion you’ll see) and she added Mt. Fuji to Japan last year.

You can also add toothpicks at points of interest, to which you can later add labels to make flag markers.

salt dough map 7

Step 6: Place the map in the sun for several hours to dry or place in the oven on 200 degrees (F). If you use the oven, be sure to supervise carefully since you’re baking a painted pizza box. The dough should become hard enough that it does not “give” when you press on it.

Step 7: Paint your map (we use tempera or acrylic paint).

salt dough map 8

That’s it! You now have a wonderful tool for studying your country of choice and a really awesome keepsake of your studies. Here is last year’s map of Japan:

salt dough map 9

Have you and your kids ever made a salt dough map?

This article was written by Kris Bales, the previous owner of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. 

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  1. I absolutely love the dough maps!!! We are actually studying Japan and always label a blank map, but I will do this from now on. We can do this on Fridays (our art day!) Thanks so much for the ideas I get from your blog!

    Happy Homeschooling!
    Kim from Tampa

  2. Thanks for posting this.. there maybe a lot of salt dough maps at ATWD this year! I think they really add to the display.

  3. Hi! I’m not sure how I found your blog (I think you might be on one of my friend’s blogroll lists – I was blog hopping a lot yesterday LOL) but I wanted to say hello and that this is a fantastic post! I’ve heard of salt dough maps, and have done other salt dough things, but never tried the maps… Definitely something that my kids would enjoy! 🙂 …Thanks so much for the step-by-step instructions and the photos!

    Ps – love the name of your blog *grin*

  4. Great idea! Thank you so much for the photos and the steb-by-step instructions!
    I am using Galloping the Globe this year with my almost 7 yr. old-I know he’ll LOVE making salt dough maps instead of just using good old tracing paper. 🙂

  5. Okay, this idea is fantastic! We’re using Tapestry of Grace and I couldn’t figure out what to use to create our salt maps on. Plus, I knew my packrat self would want to keep my kids creations……….pizza boxes are stackably perfect!

  6. You are totally NOT weird! You all are wonderful. I too use Tapestry of Grace for History, and this is the best illustration of salt dough map making that I’ve ever seen! I love the pizza box idea too. Thanks for taking the time to show your fellow weirdos! We will use it this week for the Middle East!
    Becky Wake Forest, NC

  7. Thanks so much for these instructions! I just googled “salt maps” because my son has one due for school on Friday and we have no idea what to do! Now we know!

    Husband running out for salt as I type!

    Thanks a bunch!

  8. Thank you! We just made a map of the 13 colonies, using toothpicks with little name flags to mark each colony. My daughter loved this activity and I know we will do it again! Great idea!

  9. Thank you for this helpful information. I am 38 years old and never had to make a relief map before. I almost had a panic attack when my daughter told me she had to make one! Thanks again and have a blessed day!
    Tammy Davidson

  10. So glad you posted about this on your new post today because I have looked around and finally found a recipe that I could use!!! We are going to be making our favorite Geographic feature that we have learned in our study so far!!! 

  11. You can use these directions to make any state, country, or continent. Just use the map for the place you need when drawing your outline.

  12. Thanks for the easy to follow instructions. My son needed to make a map for a school project (we’re not homeschoolers) and this was perfect. All the best.

    1. I recently threw away one that was several years old. It was kind of cracked and pitiful looking by the time I threw it away, but it took it awhile to get that way.

  13. Hi. Great instructions. I made a few salt maps when I was a kid for school projects. I searched for the recipe since it has been years since I did this. I am planning to use this in an art class that I teach. However, wanted to suggest food coloring for colors in the maps. That is what we use to do. Food coloring comes out some what pastel, but works well and is less messy than paint. Thanks for a great tutorial!

  14. I originally used salt maps when I home educated my four children almost thirty years ago. They loved them and remembered so many more of the geographical features of the area we were studying after we shaped, painted, and labeled them all on our maps. I’m just now getting ready make a map of our state with my grand daughter who is being home schooled as well.

  15. Thank you for helping my inspiration today!! I did note that between steps 2 and 3 that you’ll need to cut the patterned paper. We just used watercolors to paint the oceans…and voila’ our US map of 1804 and Lewis and Clark journeys are fini’. Ever Grateful!!

  16. I would really like to create the salt dough maps for a classroom project. My only problem is since I teach middle school, I will have too many maps to take home and bake. I wanted to know if you think putting them on a shelf next to a window will be fine or would that take too much time for it to dry? Also in order to layer up the map to create mountains does it still need to be wet? Please let me know I want to start this project 2 weeks into school starting in August.

    1. Hi, Nicole. I’ve never done the salt dough maps without baking, but I would imagine that would work. I’m just not sure how long they would take to dry completely. I would think that it would work to add wet layers to dry and build up as you go. Again, I haven’t done it that way, so I’m not sure. Your best bet would be to try it before doing it with your class to get a better idea of the time needed and make sure you don’t run into any problems. I hope that helps.

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