Homemade holiday cards have a charm that the store-bought variety just can’t match. This year, give your notes the smell of the season by enlivening them with DIY scratch-and-sniff paint.
This project is great for younger children, especially if you stick to edible ingredients. Some recipes—like this one by PBS Parents—are based on flavored gelatin. If the tasty smell overcomes a child’s self-control, that main ingredient won’t hurt them, although the powder doesn’t taste great solo.
We experimented with this formula, but most Jello mixes come in fruity flavors not often associated with winter holidays. So we also mixed up some paints based on cooking extracts—which kids should not sample on their own.
In general, this project works best if you’re willing to experiment a little with different scents. For example, some of the ingredients had more sticking power than others: Neither vanilla pudding mix nor vanilla extract produced a noticeable smell once dry. However, one paint made with cherry Jello and another based on pumpkin-spice extract both smelled overwhelmingly pungent while wet, and very subtle after they dried.
Because some of these paints lost much of their whiff once they dried, we’d recommend whipping up a mix that errs on the smellier side. We modified the original recipe to get more scent out of the ingredients, but you can tweak the proportions to get the strength you want. Your results may not look as professional as store-bought scratch-and-sniff stickers, but they’ll be much more charming.
- Plastic cups to hold paints
- Plastic spoons for mixing
- Measuring spoons
- School glue
- Flavored sugar-free gelatin OR cooking extract and food dye
- Blank cardstock or pre-folded cards
- If you’re using powder, then grab a plastic cup and spoon and mix two parts school glue to one part water and one part gelatin. When you add the components all at once, you’ll get a formula with little clumps in it. We ended up liking the effect, which looks a bit like sparkles when it dries. However, if you prefer a smoother texture, then heat your water and mix it with the gelatin first, stirring vigorously. Let this combination cool down a bit before you pour in the glue.
- For a cooking extract like mint, cinnamon, or pumpkin-spice, mix two parts glue to one part extract. Then add food dye, but be careful—a little color can go a long way. Squeeze in a single droplet, stir, and check the color before adding another lone drop. You might try green for a mint scent, red or orange for cinnamon, and so on.
- With the paintbrush, daub a pattern onto your cards. Let them dry thoroughly, which may take up to a day, depending on how thickly you’ve layered your paint.
- When the card is dry, vigorously scratch the surface and then immediately inhale to detect the odor.
For more ideas on easy at-home activities, check out our list of 10 easy science projects for kids.