These cardboard pancakes will have your little ones flippin’ their lids for some flapjack-themed sensory fun!
Now come in close and huddle up around the fire tall-tale lovers…do you know the story of Paul Bunyan? In the Northern areas of Wisconsin and all over Minnesota where I live, you’ll find Paul’s (literal) lumberjack footprints almost everywhere. In fact, he’s ironically become a symbol of conservation and ecological appreciation – we Minnesotans love a good redemption story!
When I was little, we’d drive from Ohio to Minocqua, Wisconsin (Paul Bunyan country!) where we’d me meet another family for summer vacations in the Northwoods. Our weeks on Lake Seventeen were filled with woodsy adventures, outdoor excitement, and LOTS of Paul-themed activities – like having our own little tree stump chairs carved up at the local Lumberjack Show.
On our very last day together, after all the cars had been packed up, we’d head to Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty for breakfast before saying our long “goodbye-until-next-year’s” (this place is still every bit as charming as it was since my last visit 30 years ago!).
Now that I’m in Minnesota, I’ve been itching to make the trip back for a huge stack of flapjacks and one of their famous sugar donuts. And that was the inspiration behind this Paul Bunyan-style style sensory play activity…
With thick, dripping maple syrup scented slime, squishy playdough toppings, and BIG cardboard pancakes, these are an afternoon of legendary messy play tall Paul would be proud of!
To make your own sensory play pancakes and donuts you’ll need:
Note: We prefer to shop locally or use what we have at home, but this list contains a few affiliate links from Amazon and/or Woodpecker Crafts for reference. As Amazon Associates, we make a small commission on qualifying purchases.*
- Scrap cardboard or cardboard rounds like these
- Acrylic or tempera paint (we used brown, yellow, gray, and black)
- A paintbrush and/or foam brush
- A sponge to add texture
- Playdough for berries and donuts (here’s the DIY playdough recipe I use)
- Sugar Sand (find the recipe from Create Play Travel here)
- Maple Syrup Slime (you can start with non-toxic clear slime like this and add food coloring + maple extract, or use our homemade taste-safe recipe)
TASTE-SAFE* MAPLE SYRUP SLIME:
- 1 cup of Tapioca Flour or Starch (I used this kind)
- 2 cups of water
- 3-4 drops of maple extract like this (Optional for scent)
*Note: I don’t use the word edible because eating this slime is not encouraged and not it’s intended use. However, this slime is extremely taste-safe for little ones who might be tempted to pop a handful in their mouths on the sly. Our maple syrup slime recipe only uses edible, food-grade ingredients (although please do be mindful of any allergies).
DIY Sensory Play Pancakes and Donuts Instructions:
- Cut some large circles out cardboard to start your play pancakes
To make your Paul Bunyan-size pancakes, we’re going to need some LARGE cardboard circle-ish shapes. Pancakes are never exact circles, so don’t worry about cutting them into perfect rounds – the imperfect edges make these look THAT much more realistic.
- Paint the edges your cardboard circles
Using a big paintbrush or foam brush, paint a thick light yellow stroke around the edge of your pancake – let dry for about 10 minutes (or use a hairdryer on it for about 15 seconds to speed up the process).
- Add texture to your pancakes with a sponge and paint
Next, use a sponge to add some great “just-griddled” pancake texture! Cut an old dish sponge into squares or rounds, dip into your paint, then dab onto your pancake until covered. To give our cakes a little faux dimension and added color, we used a couple of different shades of brown.
Tip: Think you might want to use these over and over for more sensory or dramatic play? After you’ve painted your cardboard pancakes, coat with a layer of Mod-Podge and let dry thoroughly before use. This will protect the cardboard from wet sensory supplies, and allow you to gently wipe the play pancakes down with a damp cloth after play.
- OPTIONAL STEP: Make a BIG plate and silverware!
These play tools are purely optional, but it definitely all adds to the fun and whimsical folk legend feel. Cut out a simple knife, fork, and griddle from cardboard and paint shades of gray (or any color you prefer!). Want them to look just like ours? You can use our printable tableware template set!
To give them their cute graphic look, I painted around the edges with a nice thick stroke of black paint. Ta-da – Paul Bunyan-style tableware (and very fun tools kids can use to poke around in their slime). Finish them with a quick coat of Mod Podge to protect them for reusable fun!
- Make your kid-safe maple syrup slime
To make our gooey faux maple syrup, we added a little color and scent to an extremely easy and kid-safe DIY clear slime.
Important note: this tapioca-made slime gets VERY sticky very fast. You can rub a little vegetable oil on it to stop the stickiness (and it comes right off bowls, etc. with water) but if you don’t like sticky, use the pre-bought kind or another favorite recipe.
To begin, measure out about 2 cups of tapioca flour and pour it into a microwave-safe bowl.
Pour in about 1.5 cups – 2 cups of water and add drops of maple for scent and food coloring (6 drops yellow, 1 drop red, 1 drop green )
Stir until the starch has completely dissolved in the water and heat in the microwave on high for 15 seconds. Give a quick stir, then heat for another 15 seconds. You’ll repeat this process about 5 times until the mixture forms a sticky ball and turns completely transparent.
Once your slime has formed, cover with about 1-2 cups of water, then empty into a bowl to cool. When cool, your slime is ready for play!
- Add play dough
Take your sensory play breakfast to the next level with some Northwoods berry toppings and some playdough donuts! You can use store-bought playdough or follow our recipe here to add play dough blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, or other fruits to your flapjacks.
To create our extra vibrant berry colors, I used a natural food-grade colorant (linked above). You can absolutely use regular food coloring instead, but I have found that the colorants produce really great strong, saturated colors.
- Set up and play!
Fill a small pitcher or bottle with maple syrup slime, set your “table”, and let the lumberjack breakfast sensory fun begin!
For kids who aren’t tempted to eat the setup, you can set up an entire playdough donut decorating line with slime “icing,” sprinkles, or other taste-safe sensory items to top your donuts.
Want to make play “powdered sugar” donuts like ours? This super fun DIY sugar sand from Create Travel Play is a perfect replacement for real powdered sugar (which would cause the playdough to turn into a big sticky mess) and another pleasing texture for little ones to sprinkle. I put about 10 drops of yellow food coloring into our “donut” playdough, we formed donuts. Grab some kitchen utensils for adding sugar sand, or just roll and sprinkle!
We had so much fun with this ooey-gooey sensory-filled play breakfast! You can combine these with our Cardboard DIY French Market Food to create a whole pretend meal for sensory exploration! And wouldn’t this make the cutest party activity with little take-home bottles of maple syrup slime for favors?
For a BIG collection of more kitchen play activities, our favorite kids’ kitchen tools, and printable safety rule templates visit our hands-on kitchen learning list!
*A note about affiliate links: We strive to use simple, earth-friendly supplies that can be purchased locally whenever we can, but sometimes we find the best universally available options, a rare eco-friendly find, or a niche product only available on Amazon or Woodpecker Crafts. When included in our supply list, these products are affiliate links, and if you click-through to make a purchase, we receive a small commission that helps us re-order these supplies!