Play-Dough Recipe

Play-dough is such an essential tool for young kids – it lets them explore all sorts of ways of creating shapes, it builds small motor skills, finger strength (essential for writing), gives them a chance to explore tools, and builds math skills as they think about dividing the play-dough into fractions. But I’m not a big fan of Play-Doh brand – I don’t like the smell, and it’s also a bit pricey given that if your kid leaves the lid open once, it dries up and becomes useless. We like making our own play-dough – here’s a recipe from my co-teacher Monisha. This is a large batch, so you might choose to cut it in half for home use.

4 cups water
Food coloring – liquid, gel, or paste – or liquid watercolor paints
4 tbsp (which is 1/4 cup) of vegetable oil

4 cups flour
1 cup salt
8 tbsp (which is 1/2 cup) of cream of tartar
Optional: a pinch of spices or drops of extract for fragrance

  • Mix water and food coloring (or liquid watercolor paints) – make the color VERY STRONG, as the other ingredients will make the final color much paler than it is now
  • Mix the oil into the colored water
  • In a big pot, mix dry ingredients (flour, salt, cream of tartar)
  • Whisk in liquids until lumps are gone (mostly).
  • Put on stove on medium heat but do not allow to boil, occasionally stirring, until it becomes a mass.  Do not worry if it still looks a little bit lumpy.
  • Let it cool, knead it a bit. (See below for tips)
  • You are done!

Kneading tips, for new bakers: Before kneading, spread a thin layer of flour on a counter or cutting board. When the dough is cool enough to touch, put some flour on your hands so the dough won’t stick to your hands. Then place the dough on the floured cutting board and start kneading. Knead till it’s just right. What you’re trying to do is create good, consistent dough that’s just the right texture for kids to play with. Usually takes a few minutes. Then it’s ready to play with. If it’s sticking to your hands, add a little flour. If it’s too dry and crumbly, add a little water. (It’s a little different each time – if the weather is really humid, or really dry, that affects the dough.)

When the play-dough is not in use, store it in a ziplock or a closed plastic container. It keeps for weeks or months, depending on how frequently it’s used.

You can play with play-dough directly on most tables, but if you’re worried about your table, you can put out a plastic tray, place-mat or table cloth to play on.

In class, each week, we put out new tools with the play-dough. Here’s just some to try: rolling pin (or a bottle or cup if you don’t have a rolling pin), cookie cutters, garlic press, a plastic knife, kid scissors, spatula, pizza cutter, pastry cutter, melon baller, wooden hammer, napkin rings (can cut circles of play-dough), a cup or container they can press down on dough to flatten a circle of dough, rubber stamps to press impressions in the dough. You can also mix other toys in with the dough – like plastic animals to leave footprints in the dough, toy trucks to leave tire tracks, shapes from a shape sorter tray, etc.

There are lots of recipes for play-dough. Experiment to find the one you like best. I’ve included two of my other favorites here:

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