Unfortunately, gluten is a very versatile protein, and many craft products aimed at children contain it. Play Doh — which is made of wheat flour, water and food coloring — is one of these craft products, but others include paints and paper mache.
Fortunately for those of us who follow the gluten-free diet, there are gluten-free options on the market for almost any project. Here's a rundown of what supplies you need to watch out for, and what's available in gluten-free form:
1. Play Dough and Modeling Clay
Practically every child I know has played with Play Doh at some point. The problem is, little gluten-free kids tend not to wash their hands afterwards, and even older children might wind up with a little bit under their fingernails.
You never should allow a gluten-free child to play with the brand-name version, regardless of how careful you think they can be. Instead, offer them the chance to play with a safe modeling clay. Possible brands include:
- Aroma Dough
- Colorations Wheat and Gluten-Free Play Dough
- Crayola Model Magic, My First Super-Soft Dough or Air-Dry Clay (not Crayola Dough, which contains wheat)
- Soy-Yer Dough
You also can make your own Homemade play dough using gluten-free flours and other ingredients.
2. Finger Paints
Children who fingerpaint frequently get more paint on themselves than on the paper, which is why these paints must be non-toxic. Unfortunately for those of us who have a problem with gluten, wheat is considered a non-toxic substance ... and some fingerpaints contain it as an ingredient. Elmer's Finger Paints, for example, contain both wheat and oats.
Therefore, when your budding artist wants to create a masterpiece with his bare hands, make sure to supply one of these fingerpaints:
3. Paper Mache
If you ever made paper mache piñatas or other creations (in your pre-gluten-free days, of course), you know what ingredients typically are used: wheat flour and water. Even if you could keep your child's hands away from her face while working on the craft project, she'll still get sick from inhaling airborne gluten.
Luckily, at least one company — AMACO — makes a gluten-free Claycrete paper mache mix that's made entirely of pure white paper pulp. The mix dries harder and whiter than wheat-based paper mache, and will adhere to most materials, including metal, glass, wood and paper.
If you want to make your own gluten-free paper mache mix, you can do so with a gluten-free glue (see below) and water: mix about one part water to two or three parts glue until you have the consistency you need.
4. Glue and Craft Paste
Despite the scary-sounding name, glue almost always is gluten-free these days — my article Does Glue Contain Gluten? provides the details. Gluten-free glue options include:
- All Elmer's glue products, including Elmer's white glue and glue sticks
- Colorations Washable School Glue, Colorations glitter glue and Colorations glue sticks (both purple and premium)
Craft paste, on the other hand, may contain wheat flour as an ingredient (just as wallpaper paste does). For a gluten-free alternative to craft paste (which is valued for its slow drying time and its flexibility after drying), try Elmer's Craft Bond Tacky Glue.
5. Markers, Crayons and Pencils
For the most part, you don't need to worry about markers, crayons and pencils — any you purchase are highly likely to be gluten-free.
Crayola states that all its drawing materials — including that rainbow of Crayola crayons — are gluten-free. Colorations' variety of different markers and pencils also are safe, as are Elmer's Painters paint markers and 3D Paint Pens.
Overall, when shopping for gluten-free craft and school supplies, you'll be better off sticking with name-brand products that disclose their gluten status (such as Crayola and Elmer's), rather than saving a little money with an off-brand or store brand. Good luck, and happy crafting!