Few things impress a child more than mixing a little of this and that to make one of their favorite toys in minutes. My kids loved playing with playdough when they were younger, and my littlest still does. I came up with this fun gluten-free playdough recipe for squishy sensory play, sans gluten.
Why Make Homemade Gluten-Free Playdough?
Store-bought Play-Doh claims to be non-toxic. While it may be true that eating small amounts of the stuff won’t immediately harm your child, there are still ingredients in there that make me nervous. And there’s always that one kid who likes eating handfuls of non-food items at craft time.
It’s hard to find an exact ingredient list since each company has its own proprietary blend. Yet a quick web search will show you what ingredients are included in the patent. Regular playdough includes wheat flour, artificial fragrances and colors, 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’re going to taste it. And even if they didn’t, the skin is the largest organ on the body. All that squishing and squeezing easily lends itself to absorption.
Hasbro, the makers of Play-Doh also advises you to call your vet if the dog eats some.
A Gluten-Free Version
Many children are sensitive to artificial dyes and fragrances. Plus an increasing number have wheat allergies, celiac disease, or gluten sensitivity. The ingredients in commercial doughs make this childhood toy off-limits to kids with a gluten-free diet.
Thankfully there are some decent pre-made playdough options available, including this gluten-free and allergen-free one. Or you can make your own! It’s so simple and can be made with things you probably already have in your pantry.
If you’re still cleaning out your pantry of all the “food” you shouldn’t be eating, you can use flour and table salt to make play dough. This recipe is also a good way to get some of that vegetable oil out of your pantry for good! 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 in front of a screen. There’s been extensive research done on what this does to the brain, including degradation and shrinkage of the various lobes in the brain.
I’ve 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! Kiddos are extremely tactile. If you’ve 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. 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, and flexible, and kids can form it into virtually anything they want. It’s marketed as a toy but there are many beneficial effects that can come from playing with it.
Why Kids Should Play with Playdough
- Exercises the imagination – Playdough requires kids to use their imagination. It may start as a ball that becomes a snowman which, in turn, morphs into a cow that finds its fate as a dragon. There are no rules, which allows each child to create what they see in their mind’s eye.
- Improves fine motor skills – Squeezing and shaping playdough helps strengthen children’s hand muscles. This is great for fine motor skills like cutting, writing, and manipulating small objects.
- Calming and soothing – If you watch a child play with playdough it becomes apparent how calming it can be. It’s like a stress ball for relieving tension and pent-up energy. If you add essential oils it can be even more mood-balancing!
- Encourages focused play – Squishing DIY playdough also satisfies the fidget bug so many children have. This helps them better focus on what they’re doing. It directs their energy into manipulating the dough, 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 creates interaction between peers and family and fosters curiosity and collaborative play.
Playdough makes a great go-to activity for little ones in our homeschool room as well. While there are no cook recipes out there, this version needs to be cooked on the stove. I’ve found that rice flour is stickier than wheat flour so cooking helps reduce the stickiness.
You’ll want to store this in an airtight container. While most of our kitchen containers are glass, for a kid-friendly version try a silicone bag. They aren’t breakable but they’re a better option than plastic bags!
Homemade Playdough Recipe
How to Add Color
There are a few ways to add color to your play dough recipe. You can add a few drops of natural food coloring until you get the color you want. Add it to the 1 cup 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. Keep in mind that this version will spoil faster.
- 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 beneficial!) scents. There’s really no end to the variety of essential oil-infused play dough you can make.
To do this first dilute the essential oil in the melted coconut oil or olive oil before adding it to the recipe. Be sure to choose kid-safe essential oils! I always recommend Plant Therapy’s kid-safe line. Revive essential oils are another great option.
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
Homemade Playdough FAQ
Can I Leave Out the Cream of Tartar?
You can, but it does help make the playdough a nice soft consistency. Some suggest subbing a little vinegar instead if you don’t have cream of tartar, but I haven’t personally tried it.
What if My Child Isn’t Gluten-Free?
You can follow the same recipe but use regular white flour instead of rice flour.
What Can I Use Instead of Corn Starch?
If you don’t have corn starch or have a corn allergy, then arrowroot will also work. Or use a combination of the two. I use non-gmo cornstarch for this recipe and many stores (including Amazon) now have it.
Help! My Playdough is Too Sticky
Rice flour tends to be stickier than wheat flour. Cooking the dough more until it’s soft and squishy but holds together helps reduce the sticky feel. Just stir and cook a little longer.
Ready for More Sensory Fun?
For older kids (or younger too if you’re feeling adventurous), try making my gooey natural slime recipe!
What creations do your kids like to make with their playdough? Leave a comment and share below!