Creative Play double-bonus: Making DIY Play Dough with the Kids. - Something Edible
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Creative Play double-bonus: Making DIY Play Dough with the Kids.

Creative Play double-bonus: Making DIY Play Dough with the Kids.


When I was a kid, I really didn't care for art time when it involved that certain type of modeling compound sold in the little plastic tins. Without getting into details, I'll just say that I am in the camp that find the smell absolutely revolting. As a dad, I find the commercial stuff overpriced and the clean-up is often tedious. That said, the kids love it; so I figure that if we're gonna use it, we might as well get the most out of our time and make it too. After trying a few different formulas, I've settled on using a recipe that employs another relic from my childhood (oh yeah!) to give our homemade play dough a vivid color and a smell that makes the fun much more palatable to the olfactories.


So as to keep myself from going insane, I try like hell to keep my kids on a daily schedule. Creative play is usually incorporated into mid-morning activities when we're not out running errands or attending Library and/or Rec. Center functions. Consequently, it was inevitable that at some point we'd be doing some sculpting. The kids are keen on Play-Doh, but as far back as I can remember, I've had reservations about how that stuff smells. And then there's the clean-up. I'm not sure how the kids do it, but without fail they manage to scatter minute particles of 'Doh across the floor in a ten-foot radius emanating from the dining room table. All the fallout from too many haircuts at the “Fuzzy Pumper Crazy Cuts Barbershop” is difficult to wrangle even with a vacuum as it tends to adhere to everything as it dries. What I needed was a recipe for modeling compound that was easy, kept well, and was easy to clean up. Oh and above all, it needed to not smell like someone had given one of those embalmed zoology dissection rats a perm.

Here's the recipe. My database really isn't wired for a non-food item to have a recipe so until I can deal with it, one extra click, it is.



  • Unless y'all have problems with gluten or hypertension, this stuff is safe to ingest; though with all that salt, I can't say I recommend it.
  • As well as helping to dissolve that truckload of salt, the boiling water also works to bloom the starch granules in the flour and improves the subsequent production of gluten, which make for a dough that is more stretchy and malleable.
  • As the dough cools and the proteins wind back up, all that stain-everything color in the drink mix becomes trapped. I can't say that it won't stain, but you're more likely to see vegetable oil residue before you see bright-pink splotch on your tablecloth.
  • About the vegetable oil – more oil means less drying and less stick. I use more than the original recipe because we almost never save anything for posterity. Additionally, the oil works to keep the hands from drying out in the face of all that NaCl. That said, if the greasy feel here disturbs you, cut the oil in half next time.
  • I prefer picking salt here because the finer grain means a smoother, more dough-like texture as more of the salt will dissolve completely. Plain table salt will also work; it'll just be a little bit more gritty.
  • Why so much salt? My take is that primarily because it makes a great anti-microbial, extending the useful life of this stuff, and mitigating germs that artists-in-training may leave behind in the medium. That said, in the words of Dr. Ian Malcom “Life finds a way”, so don't give it any help. Keep this stuff in a sealed bag with most of the air removed in the back of the refrigerator, and you'll get more than just a use or two out of a batch.



If you're feeling not-so-monochromatic or entertaining more than a couple of rug-rats, you might want to make a more than one batch. I find that a half-pound per kid is usually plenty, so we never get past the first batch. Although this last time we did strawberry as per my daughter's request, my favorite has gotta be grape, as the smell and color of it remind me of the bubble gum of the same flavor.

Making your own play dough is always a two-fer where keeping children occupied is concerned. The first day, everyone gets to kill time in the kitchen while gaining valuable experience measuring and pouring for a recipe where taste is not a factor. The second day, it's all left to imagination. We especially like to get out the cookie cutters, rolling pins and some plastic cups and saucers to prepare a late-morning tea (tiara and heels optional).

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