by Philippa Cross who would rather be outdoors than in, alone than in a crowd. She prefers dogs to cats, with a major leaning towards bulldogs. She hopes to win the Pulitzer prize for her yet unpublished novel. She started Thumb Media with a partner in June 2009. Visit her blog

I bet you have a fancy job doing something useful and fulfilling. Are you a dentist? Or a business analyst. Maybe you’re an astrophysicist. Or a fabulous home exec. No matter what you are in your professional capacity nothing you’ve ever done will compare to working with plaster of paris.

I recently began volunteering once a week at my son’s nursery school. I take an arts and crafts class on a Friday morning, alternating between age groups. (I had an urge to give back, God knows why, as it was his idea.)

For my very first class of my craft-teaching career, I decided to do plaster of paris hand prints with the 2 – 3 year olds. That involves mixing plaster of paris, pouring it into a pliable shallow plate, pressing a 2 year old hand gently into the mix, producing a perfect hand print, removing the hand, letting the mixture dry, and painting it before removing it effortlessly from the pliable shallow plate.

How hard can that possibly be?

Well. I can tell you emphatically, it is hard. I used 6 litres of plaster of paris mixture, and had to do each child’s hand 3 times. My advice is, don’t even bother trying it at home.

But if you’re dead set on the idea, are up for a challenge or want to add plaster of paris in small letters after your name on your business card, consider the following:

  • Like mushrooms, it doesn’t make as much as you think. Buy twice as much as you think you need. And then have a back up packet handy too.
  • There are two kinds of plaster of paris, as far as I know. There’s stuff you buy in hardware stores, and then craft stuff you buy in craft shops. The second, available in craft shops, is called moulding plaster of paris. Buy that one.
  • Don’t mix it all at once; it sets rock hard in two minutes flat. Try explaining that to 20 two year olds all sitting in anticipation with their plates in front of them and their spread out little hands in the air.  Mix what you need it in little quantities as you need it.
  • Don’t work in the sun. Apparently this is a bad scientific combination. The sun enhances drying process and results in cracking.

However,  I must share that after our third try, the little hand prints actually came out beautifully, and the children had fun. That perhaps is the point. They don’t care whether it actually works or not. It’s only you who has any expectations.  Children don’t mind at all. They have fun, they love making a mess, and they love getting involved. They enjoy texture, they adore mess. So my advice when tackling any kind of craft is to follow their lead. Make a mess and laugh a lot. The best part of arts and crafts is doing it together.

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