I used to think cotton balls were good only for removing nail polish or collecting dust in the back of my bathroom cabinet. But no longer! "Smashballs"—cotton balls coated in flour and water, then baked until they achieve a crunchy outer shell—are the perfect toddler activity. They're fun to make, and they're a delight to destroy.
1 cup flour
1 cup water
40-50 cotton balls
food coloring (optional, but fun!)
1. Make a papier-mâché base by mixing the flour and water. I didn't think my son would be interested in this step, but it turns out that stirring gooey stuff is totally captivating to a two-year-old.
2. If you want to add food coloring, divide the flour-and-water mixture into a few bowls, then add the colors of your choice. We made red, blue and yellow goo.
Fun but frightening: my toddler immediately learned how to unscrew and screw food-coloring caps.) You can get creative, too: WonderBaby made Smashballs as a sensory experience for blind children by adding spices and vanilla.
3. Dip and completely coat each cotton ball in the paste mixture. This was my little guy's favorite part of the activity. Like many toddlers, he didn't want to get his hands dirty, but he enjoyed getting every other part of his body (and the floor) covered in paste. (Don't worry; this stuff cleans up easily.)
4. Transfer your coated creations to a baking sheet that is either greased or lined with foil. You can make a ton of separate smashballs, or squish them together to bake into letters or shapes. Bake at 300 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour. Once baked, the smashballs have a thin, crisp outer coating.
5. My two-year-old had a little trouble completely smashing them with his toy hammer, but he enjoyed examining the soft inside after I pulled a few apart, or rolling them across the floor. We discovered that the balls don't break apart, but when you hammer or press on them, they crack and smoosh down into a softer, flatter shape. Older kids could really get into the smashing aspect of this activity—or, as a visiting adult friend on her way to the office said—it's great stress relief for grown-ups, too!