This tried and true homemade playdough recipe is our ultimate favorite. We may add different scents or colors, but we always follow the Imagination Tree’s recipe!
As a young preschool intern, I remember trying a handful of playdough recipes requiring the stovetop and it always resulted in a disaster. This recipe only requires you have boiling water, but no need for any cooking!
Why is it beneficial to offer playdough to young children?
Calming Effect/Stress Reliever:
Playdough was always offered at the table closest to the front door in the first classroom I interned in. It served as a welcoming activity and support for children saying goodbye to parents in the morning. Plain and simply, it helped children calm during their transition to school.
If you’ve ever spent time rolling playdough around in your hands you can probably agree that it has a natural calming effect on your body. It’s kind of like a stress ball. That playdough table made a profound effect on me, because of it’s abilities in supporting children in these goodbyes and I continue to make an effort to have the dough on hand for my little ones.
When we have friends over for a playdate, I always have some type of sensory activity offered and find that my daughter will often need time there before jumping into play with the others. I could imagine having playdough set out for older children to be a great way to transition home, find calm and connect with them, after a long day at school.
Young children benefit greatly from sensorial activities and play dough is such a great medium to explore! All the ingredients are safe for children to accidentally ingest too (which oftentimes happens when they’re engrossed in play).
They get an opportunity to exercise their fine motor skills and muscles by manipulating the dough (squishing, rolling, pinching etc.) Strengthening those muscles will lend itself nicely to prewriting skills too. Adding scents to the dough will get their olfactory system going with different smells to experience too.
How do you make it?
2 cups all purpose flour (all purpose)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (baby oil and coconut oil work too)
1/2 cup salt
2 tablespoons cream of tartar
1 to 1.5 cups boiling water (add them in increments until it feels just right)
food colouring (optional)
Mix the flour, salt, cream of tartar and oil in a large mixing bowl
Add food colouring TO the boiling water then into the dry ingredients
Stir until it becomes a sticky, combined dough
Allow it to cool down then take it out of the bowl and knead it vigorously for a couple of minutes until all of the stickiness has gone. * This is the most important part of the process, so keep at it until it’s the perfect consistency!*
If it remains a little sticky then add a touch more flour until just right
When do we make playdough?
We attempt to make this dough every few months and it is an excellent “cooking” activity to do with your child(ren)’s help! My daughter has been making this dough since she was little and typically likes to lead in the process these days. If you’re feeling timid about letting your child help out in the kitchen, this could be a great “starter” cooking experience for them to be a part of.
As always, I’d highly recommend starting out simple and small when introducing a new sensory experience for a young child. Simply having the dough out with a couple of straws, a spoon and a bowl is a great starting place. As they explore the dough, you can easily see where their interest is and add specific materials to support their play.
We LOVE adding in different essential oils to the dough! Lavender oil offers children a great calming experience. If you’ve got a child with a cold, they may benefit from a few drops of Eucalyptus oil to help open up their sinuses. This is a great opportunity to add in Rosemary from the garden or think creatively of what else would be an aromatic addition. Adding in different baking emulsions (we’ve tried banana) is a wonderful way to get a strong scent into the dough.
Some Items that could be offered with the playdough:
little cups/ prep bowls
plastic scissors (often these can be found at the dollar stores)
plastic toys such as animals (paw printmaking!)
wine corks (etch out designs with an Xacto knife and you have homemade stamps!)
rolling pin and cookie cutters
plastic pizza cutter
If you’re wanting more concrete ideas for what to put out with the playdough, consider sticking to a theme. Do they have a favorite movie? Book character? A favorite color? I’ve shared an idea below to get your creative juices flowing!
Think pumpkin patch, leaves turning colors and Pumpkin Spice Lattes…
You could add in:
-small pumpkins (so fun to cover them with the dough/ roll the pumpkins or use them as “stamps” -pumpkin pie spice into the dough as you are making it. You may need to add a touch more liquid to keep the consistency soft! -an orangey-red blend of food coloring -crunchy fall leaves (go on a nature walk and collect some with your child(ren) -fabric fall leaves from craft store -googley eyes (might inspire them to make their own jack-o-lanterns etc.)
I hope this homemade playdough recipe supports your family in making a fun, easy, inexpensive material that lasts for many months! There are endless ways to enjoy playdough with your children and they obviously will have the best ideas for what to pair with it.
Angie Waltz is an Early Childhood Educator with over 10 years of experience in Reggio-inspired, play-based classrooms. Her undergraduate degree is in Child Development and she holds a Masters in Human Development. Angie is enthusiastic about sharing ideas, activities, and materials that support a play-based, child-led learning approach. She also loves helping families create developmentally appropriate, thoughtful, rich learning spaces for their children.