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Playdough Wonders

Playdough is a fabulous material to help children's sensory development. And as a sensory activity, playdough can help children manage their feelings. It’s very soothing to just play with the dough and squidge it around. Making things is a distracting activity that can have a calming effect. And sometimes, pummeling the dough can help to get those strong feelings out.

The Wonders Of Playdough

Sensory Play

Playdough is a fabulous material to help children’s sensory development. And as a sensory activity, playdough can help children manage their feelings. It’s very soothing to just play with the dough and squidge it around. Making things is a distracting activity that can have a calming effect. And sometimes, pummeling the dough can help to get those strong feelings out.

You can buy playdough, but there are lots of recipes that are easy to make. These vary depending on if you want to cook it, how long you would like it to last, how much trouble you want to go to and how many ingredients you use.

Here I am adding a few recipes for you to try:

No-Cook Playdough Recipe

This recipe is one I have tried and tested a few times now. The amounts are good for one portion of dough. It’s about 1 and half times the amount you get in a PlayDoh tub that you buy. If you want a lot then you can double-up the recipe. I made a few batches so I could colour them differently and add things like perfume oils too. 

Ingredients

  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon oil – any oil would work. I used olive oil
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 3/4 cup boiling water – about 150ml
  • Optional Ingredients
    • Food colouring
    • Add a few drops of glycerine for extra shine
    • 1 tablespoons cream of tartar or 3 tbsp of lemon juice

Method

  • Mix the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl – Don’t add oil here as it clogs with the flour and makes it hard to spread throughout the dough.
  • Add oil to water with glycerine and any food colouring if you are using them and mix to dissolve before adding to the flour.
  • Add the liquid gradually to get the right feel.
  • Stir until it becomes a dough.
  • When it has cooled, take it out of the bowl and knead until you have the right consistency. It doesn’t take too long to cool at all and I mixed in a bowl until cool enough to knead and then kept kneading in the bowl.
  • Add more flour if it gets too sticky.
  • For storage, wrap up well so no air gets to it. I used clingfilm then put it into a sealable tub.

Adding the cream of tartar could make the dough a little stretchier, smoother and less grainy and is supposed to preserve it further. The batch I made without it wasn’t that much different to look at and feel though.

Glycerine did make the dough a little more shiny but there’s really not a lot in it.

To colour the dough I didn’t use gel food colouring. Just the cheap liquid kind. But you need more than you think. I used about half a teaspoon for the brighter colours. The more you add, the deeper the colour. I tried combining colours like red and blue to make purple – but it didn’t work. It just went a muddy grey/brown colour. So using pure colours is best.

Add essential oils for scent. Wait until temperature of dough has dropped, add into the mixed dough and knead to incorporate. If you add perfume when it’s too hot the smell won’t be as strong. And check which oils to use. Some can be irritants. Remember that your child may eat the dough, so think very carefully about what you add. Dilute any oils that you use and read the safety information first.

Here is another no-cook recipe:

https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/playdough-recipe

One with few ingredients:

https://ourbestbites.com/2-ingredient-silky-smooth-play-dough/

This one is OK but doesn’t hold its shape too well. But it feels amazing!

Longer lasting but more ingredients:

Additions

The great thing about play dough is that once you know the basic recipe, you can add sensory additions.

  • Colour – use food colouring which is simple and gives great bright colours. There may be some staining on hands but it washes off easily
  • Smell – use natural perfume oils. A few drops are all you need
  • Shiny – add glitter or glitter flakes or sequins for added sparkle

Try doing a few variations. For example, you could have a yellow dough with lemon perfume and gold glitter! But a large ball of plain white basic dough can also be a fabulous thing and lends itself to a child’s imagination. One advantage of this plain dough is children can make their own additions. For example, a ‘worry monster’ could have googly eyes, pipe cleaner spikes for hair and beads on his tummy. Let your child’s imagination run wild.

If you can, let your child help you make the dough. This is easier with the no-cook methods, but even the recipes that are cooked can be done together with obvious safety precautions. Making the dough will be a satisfying sensory activity in itself. 

Once your dough is made, just let your child play with it as it is. No cutters, rolling pins and the like. Just let him explore it without direction to make or create anything. You can help free up his creative emotions by letting him know he can decide what to do. Well, it won’t be OK to throw the dough or eat it, but I find it works best to not give children a whole list of do’s and don’ts because this can lead to a more willful child looking for the rules you haven’t mentioned to break. And the child who lacks confidence will worry about getting things wrong or not pleasing you. I use statements like this when doing almost all activities and it relaxes children so they feel free to explore and experiment.

“Here we are with our play dough, you can do almost anything you want with it, I’ll let you know if there’s anything you can’t do.”

You can also use play dough to help your child when his emotions are overwhelming, and it would be a great thing to add to your Magic Box as a soothing and calming choice. 

But I have also found it helpful to have some specific messy activities that work well with young children for both a sensory experience but also as a distraction from worries and difficult feelings.

I’ve created these printable activities for you to try:

Playdough Hand Print

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Playdough Octopus

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Playdough Feeling Face

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