I love playdough, it’s such a great way to engage children. It’s sensory, with all the different colours, scents and textures, it lets them use their imaginations, it helps develop fine motor skills and it’s suitable for all ages. Really, why wouldn’t you like it?

The problem is, I often see playdough being advertised or used in ways that just don’t make use of it’s full potential. Usually each child will be given a very small amount of dough with a rolling pin and some cookie cutters, or perhaps a gadget that produces one specific shape. They might be given a few colours and told not to mix them. This sort of play can be fun, and most children will enjoy it for a short while, I’m not against the idea as such. But it really does miss the point of this fantastic play material, and so many opportunities are missed along the way. Read on to hear how I prefer to use playdough.

Homemade Dough

Personally I hate the plasticy smell of bought playdough, which makes me rather biased! Even if you like it though, do consider making your own from time to time (there’s a recipe at the bottom of this post). Homemade dough is far cheaper than bought and comes in much bigger quantities, which opens up a whole range of possible play ideas. It can also be varied to give different types of sensory experiences:

  • Cooked dough is warm when freshly made, and cool after storage
  • It can be any colour, vibrant or pastel, and contain glitter or other sparkles.
  • Dough can be scented in many ways, from fun doughs made with jelly/jello, to those that echo a season or activity like Christmas spices or hot chocolate, through to calming doughs scented with lavender.
  • You can also change the texture of playdough by trying out different recipes or including things like dried herbs and flowers.

Loose Parts

With a small quantity of dough there is often only enough to roll out and squeeze on a cutter. Now that you have a huge blob of it you can do so much more! Instead of dictating the sorts of things that should be done, aim to spark your child’s imagination and let them follow their own ideas by providing them with different loose parts. They will develop confidence, the ability to concentrate, problem solving skills and so much more when they are allowed to play independently, with no “right” thing to do or make.
Ideas for loose parts include:

  • Drinking straws, either whole or cut into short lengths
  • Cupcake cases
  • Large buttons
  • Short lengths of ribbon
  • Small twigs and sticks
  • Acorns, Pinecones
  • Leaves
  • Tools for cutting or shaping
  • Arms and legs from a “Potato head” toy
  • toy people or animals
  • dried pasta shapes

Use your imagination and see what you can come up with, but don’t put out everything at once. If you choose a small number of items each time you will be able to create a completely different play experience.

Sit back and watch what happens!

You may have had something in mind, but your child may have a completely different idea and that’s absolutely fine. A few toy animals might make footprints in the dough, or be tucked up under a doughy blanket, or perhaps they all need new hats! Whatever your child chooses to do they are developing so many skills as they think through their plans, and you might be surprised by how long they stay absorbed in the activity.

A recipe for playdough

This is my favourite recipe, it is quick and easy but gives a good textured dough that lasts very well in an airtight container or ziplock bag. You do need to use the cream of tartar or it will leave a salty residue on your hands, I buy mine in bulk from Amazon and find that a bag lasts years.

The recipe makes enough dough for one or two children.

First measure the following into a large bowl (children love to help with this bit!)

  • 2 cups of plain flour
  • 1/2 cup of salt
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons of cream of tartar
  • glitter (if using)
  • a few drops of essential oil or flavouring essence/extract for scent (if using)

Next put some food colouring in a jug and measure in 1 1/2 cups of freshly boiled water. quickly mix the colour into the water and add to the other ingredients.

Use a spoon to mix everything together (it will seem very sticky at first but that should go) and as soon as it is cool enough turn out and knead. You should very quickly get a lovely soft dough which you can give to your child as soon as it stops being hot. Any scents you have added will be stronger while the dough is warm and it really is a treat. I still remember my Mum making a cooked playdough and letting us play with it warm from the saucepan!