Every year when the holidays roll around I try to think of one really special gift to give Kayla. Something that can’t be bought in stores and is more of an experience than just a “thing.” Which is precisely how I wound up making this DIY gem dig. Sure you can order a premade gem dig online. I’ve used them before and they’re just fine. The downside? You don’t get to customize what goes in it!
For my special gift to Kayla I wanted something that was made just for her with not just gems but things that would be real treasures to her as well. When you make your own gem dig you can put almost anything you like in it. Coins, secret messages or figurines of characters your child adores.
There are some DIY dig activities out there that call for plaster of paris. I’m admittedly not a big fan of the stuff because of the dust, which isn’t great to breathe in. Instead, my DIY gem dig uses play sand and glue. It takes longer to set but creates a really fun texture and doesn’t come with the dust of plaster of paris.
Making it is pretty easy, just be sure you allow yourself plenty of drying time. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Play sand – I highly recommend purchasing clean play sand for sanitary reasons.
- Clear glue
– This glue is strong but not too strong and perfect for this use.
- A sand mold, small plastic bin, bowl or cup with a wide base. Sand molds are great for easy removal but can be large. A simple red Solo cup will get the job done.
- An inexpensive mixing bowl – it will get sandy so Pyrex is great but don’t use a family heirloom.
- A disposable fork
- Trinkets to hide:
Then you’ll want a little tool kit for your child to excavate the trinkets from your DIY gem dig. Here are a few ideas:
- Gel nail polish removing tool – I like that this tool can be used to chip away the sand but isn’t actually sharp.
- Toothbrush – perfect for brushing and getting bits of sand off the trinkets
- Paint brush – more for effect than anything else, but how real archeologists do the fine dusting of their finds.
- Small magnifying glass
– Mostly for effect but hey, it’s all about the experience!
Here’s what you’ll need to do:
- Fill the mold you want to use with dry sand.
- Measure the mold full of sand by pouring it into a dry measuring cup and emptying the cup into your mixing bowl as many times as you fill it. Don’t worry about being exact.
- Add 1/4 bottle of clear glue for every cup of sand you use.
- Mix with the plastic fork until combined. You can also mix by hand but remember to remove any rings you may have on.
- Pour about half of the sand and glue mixture into your mold. Press in some of the trinkets. You can push some down farther than others to add variation to where they fall in the mold.
- Add the rest of the sand and glue mixture and pat it down to make it as level as possible.
- Set your mold in a dry place out of sight and reach of your children. If you have the option of placing the mold in a sunny area that will help shorten the drying time.
- After a day you should be able to release your DIY gem dig from the mold. It may not be hardened already so place it on a piece of wax paper or non-stick aluminum foil and leave it in a dry place to continue drying.
Here’s another one I made that’s been opened up so you can see what’s inside. To make this shape I simply used one of those red Solo cups. To pack the sand down I just pushed it down with another Solo cup since they stack. It worked really well.
Once yourDIY gem dig is dry you’re almost all done. You’ll want to wrap it up in some extra special packaging and include the digging tools of your choice. This project can be made in bulk as a neat party favor, can be given as a thoughtful homemade gift at a birthday party, and of course makes an extra special present during the holidays.
Be prepared for your child to want to dig right in (pun intended) A cookie sheet with raised edges makes a great surface for this and will contain most of the mess. I love that this gift is an educational activity in disguise. It has a nice sensory aspect, exercises your child’s fine motor skills, requires them to problem solve and is just plain FUN. Just be sure to keep your DIY gem dig out of reach of younger siblings and pets. I think it’s very appropriate for children ages 6 and over but you know your child best.
Want to save this idea for another day? You can by pinning the image below and it will be waiting for you when you’re ready.