Easy Playdough for Toddlers
One day a neighbor dropped by while my then three- and four-year-old and I were involved in a craft project. There were things spread out all over the kitchen table and paint and glue evident on my kids’ shirts and in their hair. We were a mess. From a few feet back, she said, “I wish I’d let my kids make a mess and have fun when they were young, but I was always too worried about keeping my house clean.” Thirty years later, I’m still not sure if that was a sincere compliment, or she was too polite to mention the train wreck that was our kitchen. My kids were frequently a mess, and I offer no apology. In my opinion, a messy childhood is a mark of a happy childhood.
A previous cooking project; messy can be delicious.
With that in mind, I give you the recipe for a fun afternoon with a toddler or preschooler, the making of playdough! I went in search of a method that my grandson could do with a little help from me. That meant a recipe that didn’t involve cooking in any way, wouldn’t hurt him if he snuck a small taste, and one that involved lots of sensory stimulation. Callister just turned three in June, and he isn’t exactly the quiet, reserved type. Most of our activities revolve around running up and down the stairs, making loud monster or truck sound effects, and tackling anything in the way, so it was a surprise that this project held his attention. He even asked to do it again a week later, which means success in my book.
The preparation, nice and clean before Callister digs in to the project.
Although I am by no means a clean freak (just ask my neighbor), I did lay down some heavy plastic underneath our workspace, and I was glad I did. Later, I saw the suggestion to tape the plastic down with painter’s tape. I’ll do that next time, plus I might add a layer of plastic on the floor. Nagging a toddler to keep things clean is like asking the water at Niagara Falls to quit running. Here is what you need to have to make play dough:
- Big mixing bowl
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Big spoon for stirring
- Warm water
- Cream of Tartar (optional, I didn’t have any, so we skipped it)
- Food coloring
- Cookie cutters
- Rolling pin
- Plastic utensils
- Kitchen towels or paper towels for cleaning sticky hands
- Patience and a blind eye to messiness
Recipe and Instructions
- 1 cup of flour (any kind is fine, I used Gold Medal All Purpose)
- ¼ cup of salt
- 1 Tbsp cream of tartar (optional, I didn’t have any, so we skipped it)
- ½ cup of warm water
- food coloring
- We measure the ingredients together (a hidden math lesson), and then I let Callister pour them into the bowl and stir. I like the separate measuring cups because I think it helps them visualize amounts better. Mix the flour, salt, and cream of tartar together.
- If you want to be neat and clean, you may mix ½ cup of warm water with a few drops of food coloring, but that would mean only one color in each batch. We wait and add colors later. I’ll explain in step five.
- Slowly pour the water into the flour mixture, stirring as you pour. Stir until combined, then knead with your hands until the flour is completely absorbed. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour until it doesn’t stick at all.
- Divide dough into three different segments.
- Make a small well in the center of each piece of dough. Let the child squirt a few drops of food coloring into the center of the well and then work the color into the dough. Yes, this is really messy, but it’s such a great sensory experience. We do the three primary colors; red, yellow, and blue. When he finished with those, we decided to experiment with making secondary colors. We made green by mixing yellow and blue together, purple by adding blue and red. We had to make his grandad’s favorite color by mixing red and yellow together to make orange. You see, a I snuck a little lesson about colors into a fun activity, and he didn’t even realize he was learning about primary and secondary colors!
- Let the child use the rolling pin, cookie cutters, and plastic utensils to have fun playing with the finished playdough.
- When we were finished, I stored the play dough in an old cool-whip container. It stayed fresh for a week.
Success is measured by smiles!
We’re all staying home more these days, and we need to find ways to keep things interesting. Making playdough can be messy, but it’s also a great project for kids, and you probably have everything you need right in your kitchen cabinets. It gave us an hour of something besides Legos, trucks, and dinosaurs, so I was a happy grandmom. You don’t have to go to Disney World to make great memories!