Updated: Jun 10
I still remember when I first came across this simple recipe for play dough, a few years into nannying. It was a game changer! I always found that the Playdoh you could by in the shops was too hard and stiff for young children’s fingers to properly manipulate. Not to mention expensive and quick to dry out! I had tried making homemade playdough but always found it slightly lacking in elasticity so it broke into small pieces too easily. And it, too, was prone to drying out.
For years I had wondered from where the nurseries where I trained had sourced their pliable and colourful dough. As a shy student, I don’t think it even occurred to me to ask, and I simply assumed it to be an expensive item purchased from one of the specialist nursery resource catalogues. But no, it turns out it was homemade, using just five ingredients, and fool proof to make, taking only a few minutes!
236ml of water (or one American cup)
120g s of plain flour (or one American cup)
150g of pouring salt (or half an American cup)
1 tbsp cream of tartar (found in the baking section in the supermarket)
1 tbsp of cooking oil
Food colouring (optional)
Throw everything into a saucepan and give it a quick mix – don’t worry it will look like a lumpy, sticky, runny, mess to start with!
Heat the mixture slowly over a moderate heat. Stir regularly, until the mixture comes away from the sides of the pan. It is done once the mixture has formed a ball and is no longer sticky to touch.
Allow to cool. Give it a quick knead to ensure it’s the right consistency and then play away to you and your child’s hearts content. Store in an airtight container.
As with all homemade dough, the salt content is very high, so always supervise children to make sure they don’t have a nibble at it.
If you want to have a range of different coloured play dough, but don’t want to cook a number of batches at the same time, you can omit the food colouring at the cooking stage. Once cooked, divide the mix into two or three portions. Make a large well in the middle of each portion (be careful, as the middle may still be very warm) and add a few drops of food colouring. Very carefully draw the sides up and over the well to encourage the food colouring to mix into the dough.
Be warned, you probably will end up with slightly stained fingers. If this is an issue, try wearing dry washing up gloves or disposable gloves. Once the colouring has started to take, keep kneading the dough until you have an even colour. Or leave it half mixed in for an interesting pattern.
Smelly play dough
Make the dough as above, with or without colour, but add into the mixture a good teaspoon of spices or a glug of flavouring essence. Cook as normal and then enjoy some sensory dough.
If you want to have a range of smells but without cooking a mountain of playdough, you can also add spices or cake flavourings after cooking, using the method described above for different colours.
Sparkly play dough
Simply cook as above, with or without colour (although black dough and sliver glitter can make a brilliant combination for space play). Once the mixture has cooled enough to touch, simply sprinkle with a good shower of glitter and knead through the dough (be careful, as the middle may still be very warm).
However, be aware that glitter is made from tiny pieces of plastic, so it’s not great for the environment (or for a child to have an eat of either).
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