Few things impress a child more than mixing a little of this and a little of that to make one of their favorite toys in a matter of minutes. And with a little help from you, even your child can do it with this fun homemade playdough recipe!
“Non-Toxic” (Or Is It?)
Commercially manufactured playdoughs claim to be non-toxic, and while it may be true that consuming small amounts of the stuff will not immediately harm your child, there are still ingredients in there that make me nervous.
It is difficult to find an exact ingredient list because each company has their own proprietary blend, but a quick web search will show you what ingredients are included in the patent. These include artificial fragrances and colorants, a petroleum additive, borax, and preservatives, just to name a few.
Any mom will tell you that children explore with their mouths, so why should they behave any differently with playdough? They are going to taste it. And even if they didn’t, the skin is the largest organ on the body, and all that squishing and squeezing easily lends itself to absorption.
Many children are sensitive to artificial dyes and fragrances, and an increasing number have wheat allergies or celiac disease. The ingredients in commercial doughs make this childhood toy off-limits to these kids.
Thankfully there are some decent pre-made playdough options available, including one that is gluten-free and allergen free, and another that is naturally colored but contains gluten. Or you can make your own! It is so simple and can be made with things you probably already have in your pantry.
If you are still cleaning out your pantry of all the “food” you shouldn’t be eating, you can use flour to make playdough. For those who are gluten intolerant, this gluten-free playdough is a great option.
Benefits of Playdough
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children spend an average of 7 hours a day using entertainment media. There has been extensive research done on what this does to the brain, including but not limited to degradation and shrinkage of the various lobes in the brain.
I know that personally I have seen what too much “screen time” does to my children. Even after a 2-hour movie I notice shorter tempers, an increase in whining, and a general lack of imagination. Kids generally have more active imaginations than adults, but like with anything else, you can lose the ability for imaginative play if you don’t use it.
Usually, the easiest remedy for this behavior is more play! Kids are extremely tactile. If you have ever taken little ones to the store and felt like a broken record with the constant stream of “don’t touch” and “put that back” then you know exactly what I am talking about, and playdough is irresistible!
It encourages the imagination in a way that is unique. Pots and pans encourage kitchen play and dolls prompt little ones to “play house”. But playdough is truly a blank slate. It’s squishy, moldable, flexible and can be formed into virtually anything they want it to be. It is marketed as a toy but there are many beneficial effects that can come from playing with it.
- Exercises the imagination – Making anything with playdough requires you to use your imagination. You may start with a ball which becomes a snowman which, in turn, morphs into a cow that finds it’s fate as a dragon. There are no rules, which allows each child to be free to create what they see in their mind’s eye.
- Improves fine motor skills – The muscles in your child’s hands will be strengthened as they squeeze and shape the playdough. This is beneficial for fine motor skills like cutting, writing, and manipulating small objects.
- Calming and soothing – If you simply watch a child play with playdough it becomes apparent how calming it can be. It can work in the same way as a stress relieving ball that is squeezed to relieve tension and pent-up energy.
- Encourages focused play – Another benefit of the soothing effect is that it satisfies the need many children have to fidget, allowing them to be still for a time and focus better on what they are doing. It directs their energy into manipulating the dough, thus limiting other behaviors that may cause a distraction.
- It’s interactive – “Look at what I made!” “Can you make a … ?” “Watch what I can do.” The ever changing aspect of playdough facilitates interaction between peers, siblings, and parents by fostering curiosity about what others are doing and encouraging collaborative play.
Playdough makes a great go-to activity for little ones in our homeschool room as well.
Natural Homemade Playdough Recipe
Making your own playdough is very simple and takes less than 10 minutes. Adding color is optional but I find that most of the time my kids don’t even request it.
- 1 cup gluten-free flour mix (or rice flour)
- 1/2 cup cornstarch
- 1/2 cup salt
- 1 tablespoon cream of tarter
- 2 teaspoons liquid coconut oil (or olive oil)
- 1 cup warm water
- Combine dry ingredients in a small saucepan.
- Add oil and water.
- Stir together with a silicone spatula.
- Cook on medium heat for about 3 minutes until it forms a ball.
- Remove from heat and turn the ball out onto parchment paper.
- When it is cool enough to handle, knead ball for several minutes until it is smooth.
- Store in an airtight container.
Even though this playdough recipe is made from all natural ingredients it does have a very high salt content and should not be consumed.
How to Add Color
There are a couple ways to add color to your playdough. You can use a natural food dye and add a few drops until you achieve the color you want to the 1 cup of water before mixing it in with the other ingredients.
Another option is to make your own colored water. Simmer 2 cups of water with various fruits, vegetables, or herbs until the water takes on the color you want. Strain and use 1 cup of the colored water in your playdough recipe.
- Blue – shredded purple cabbage
- Green – spinach
- Red/pink – shredded beet
- Purple – grape juice
- Yellow/orange – turmeric
My kids LOVE when I add a few drops of essential oil for fun (and possibly beneficial!) scents. There is really no end to the variety of essential oil-infused play dough you can make.
Important note: Use a kid-safe oil and dilute in a carrier oil before using. For a 2-4 year old, I use about 3 drops in 2 teaspoons of olive oil or jojoba oil. I keep a magnet with the ratios for dilution on the side of my fridge for easy reference.
Some of my favorite oils to use are:
- Grapefruit for invigoration
- Lavender for calming and sleep aid
- Lemon to help with colds or allergies
- Lime for energy and focus
Ready for More Sensory Fun?
For older kids (or younger too if you’re feeling adventurous), try making my gooey natural slime recipe!
Have you ever made playdough? Will you try it?