Play Dough

It’s actually okay if they eat this play dough. I mean, don’t suggest it, but they would be okay.

This is the recipe I always use. The recipe still works even if you don’t have the cream of tartar.

Setup
Since you have to cook it on the stove for a couple minutes, my technique is to first get out a few kitchen drawer tools for the kids on the table:

  • plastic cookie cutters
  • rolling pin
  • cheese grater (very popular)
  • plastic forks and knives
  • a couple measuring spoons

How
Meanwhile, I mix up the dough in a pot on the stove. When it’s done, it’s still white. I divide the dough into four little bowls and bring them to the table with the box of food coloring. Each kid gets to pick two colors that they want, and then they watch me (it’s too staining and too hot for little kids to mix) put in the magical drops and turn the white dough into their dreamed-of color.

Other tips

  • Don’t use your good sea salt. Use Morton’s brand or similar.
  • To avoid staining your own hands, make a fat pancake of dough, put the coloring in the middle, and then fold the pancake in on itself a few times to disperse the color without you having to actually touch the fresh coloring drops. For some reason, once it’s been dispersed a bit, it won’t stain your hands.
  • Make a rule that all the play dough needs to stay on the table. It cannot travel.
  • When they’re done, ball up each color and stick it in a plastic zipper bag if you want to play with it again later.
  • You will need to sweep the floor afterward. However, if you have Montessori kids, you know that they will do the sweeping for you.

Variations

  • Have them play “Store.” They can make little play dough items to offer for sale, and then you can come over for a few minute and pick out which ones you want to buy and commission a few special order. Depending on the intricacy level your kid is at, you can suggest that they make animal figurine, fancy barrettes, tiny flowerpots, geometric shapes, race cars, worms and spirals, braids, or little snow people.
  • They can build a city or town, with houses, a school, a playground, a swimming pool. If you have a certain type of kid, they may really enjoy creating a Godzilla to come along and destroy everything. Others might like to make a little play dough child to act out a day in the life with.
  • If you have two kids
    They can play “Twins.” Put up a folder or something in between them so they can’t see each other’s work space. One makes a simple little creation–it works well if they make a humanoid/person–and then tries to describe it to the other one step by step. The other player does their best to follow the directions to recreate what the first one made. Guaranteed incredulous laughter when the twins meet each other.
  • Join in
    Give yourself some time to play with the play dough, too. It’s very relaxing, and your kids will be wowed by your most mediocre sculpting skills. “How did you make a horse?!”

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