Mini Monets and Mommies: Homemade Play Dough: Explore With Scent, Texture and Temperature

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Homemade Play Dough: Explore With Scent, Texture and Temperature

Mixing up a batch of homemade play dough is hardly reinventing the wheel. At the beginning of my first experience working in early childhood education (as a teacher’s assistant in a preschool) the lead teacher tasked me to make play clay for out 3- and 4-year-olds. She sent me off to the school’s kitchen with a recipe that looked something like this.

Sensory play

1.      Boil 1 ½ cups of water.

2.      Mix in 2 cups of flour.

3.      Add 2 tsp. of cream of tartar.

4.      Add 2 tbsp. vegetable oil.

5.      Add ½ a cup of salt.

This recipe (or any of its slight variations) is fairly standard. Basically, I’m saying – it’s not new news. Even though I thought the lead teacher must be a creative genius to have come up with such as rocking recipe, I quickly realized that almost every preschool teacher knows this one. Even though you’ll find more play dough recipes online than stars in the sky (really, there are pages and pages and pages of them), I still wanted to explore some fun things to do with this soft clay-like compound.

Obviously the first thing to do is make the dough. You can follow this recipe or any other one (some of them have variations of ingredients or don’t involve cooking). If you’re looking to try something new, I highly recommend having your child help you to experiment. The only exception to this is with hot water. Never let your child near the hot stove and never give your child play dough with hot or boiling water to stir, mix or otherwise play with. Let your little one help by adding new cold (or room temperature) ingredients. I let my son pour different amounts of vegetable oil. He’s 12 and thought it would be hilarious to pour half a bottle of oil into the mix. Needless to say – it didn’t work. He certainly enjoyed it though.

One part of making play dough that I can’t stand is the smell. It’s the flour and cream of tartar combo that gets to me. So, I’m always looking for ways to cover it. That said, instead of just adding food coloring (which works perfectly well to create rainbow hues) I choose to add some foods with color. I do have a bit of an aversion to using food for art’s sake. Even though I know my tiny batch of dough wouldn’t feed all of the starving children in the world, I feel wasteful. Whenever I use food for art (which isn’t a lot), I make a trade-off and donate canned goods to the local food pantry (as a bonus it teaches my son a lesson on giving to others and makes him more aware that not everyone is as fortunate as he is).

Raspberry Dough
I had a few almost non-edible raspberries left over in the fridge. Instead of pitching them, I added them to the plain dough. They give the play clay a sweet scent and a pretty pink color. Or at least that’s what I thought until my son said, “Cool, you made brain dough.” Yes, it looked like brains in a bag. So, keep this in mind for a potential Halloween activity.

Brain dough!
I wanted to add some texture. I had a few graham crackers sitting out (left over from making s’mores). I crumbled these and rolled the play dough through. This adds texture and it’s an easy option for young children who constantly try to eat their art materials. I’m not recommending that your child tries to eat this activity. But, if he does, it is food-based.

Kids' art

Another option that I wanted to try was popsicle dough. At some point in time we’ve all experienced the dropped popsicle temper tantrums. Instead of throwing out the brightly-colored icy treat, wrap it up and put it back in the freezer until you have time to use it in this project. Put the play dough into a bowl and have your child use the popsicle to stir it. As the popsicle melts (hint: use this as a science exploration too) it will add color to the dough. Have your child use his hands to stir it together, feeling the chilly sensation of the just-melted popsicle.


  1. I just made a batch of this today! It's the best play doh recipe- hands down :)

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