Rain, rain go away, or not: Making Playdough

playdough

Spring in New England is famous for its ever-changing weather. Now that we’re beginning to feel like summer truly is going to come this year, we’re thinking more about picnics at the lake, the first summer berries, and ice cream at the Udder Delight on a hot afternoon.

But one thing we know is coming, though we never seem to plan for until it actually hits us, is the summer rainy day.

I’m sure like me, you’ve loved the few rainy days of summer. It’s a chance to cuddle up in the house with a good book, make some soup, or bake some cookies while the heat is at bay. I can still feel the happiness of pulling out my favorite worn sweatshirt (going on 20 years old, that thing) just for one day of its fuzzy goodness.

As much as we adults welcome the change, there’s one group out there who doesn’t see a rainy day as escape, but rather Mother Nature’s torture test. Who could it be, you ask? It’s kids. Especially when they begin to realize summer is a fleeting time, with fall and winter looming behind every cloud. They want to be outside climbing, running, swimming, DOING!

Does this sound familiar to you? You spend a whole morning setting up an indoor golf course, or a sofa pillow tent, only to hear “I’m bored” before lunchtime arrives. (I cured that particular vice by firmly stating that anyone who declared “I’m bored” could always do chores.) But what can we as parents add to our bag of tricks before the next rainy day hits that will entertain our children (and us) without more than a handful of ingredients and 5 minutes of prep time?

It’s PLAYDOUGH!  Not the Play-Doh in a yellow can, but homemade playdough that you and your kids can make together in a rainbow of colors and scents. There are only five ingredients to the dough (not including colors and scents), and only one bowl is needed. Talk about your easy, kid-pleasin’ project!

For this project, I was lucky enough to work with a lovely young lady named Shivani. Shivani’s dad works with our Web team, and during one trip to our offices brought his family along from South Carolina. Shivani’s mom and brother cooked with PJ, and Shivani and I played with playdough and had a delightful time. She proved to be a little camera shy, so you will only see her hands, but take it from me, this girl has beautiful eyes and and a truly charming smile!

Follow along with our Homemade Playdough recipe.

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In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, and cream of tartar. Be sure to press out any lumps of salt with your fingers. For this recipe, I used half table salt and half kosher salt.

Using table salt will produce a smoother playdough, while using kosher salt adds a little sparkle to the dough, as the salt doesn’t completely dissolve into the dough. Either is fine for the recipe in whatever proportion you choose.

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Add the hot water, and mix well. If you’re making all one scent, or all one color, you can add those now. If you’re making several, you’ll add those later.

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Mix and knead the dough for 5 minutes or so, until it’s smooth. This is a job for the adults; the dough will be hot.

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Ah, soft and smooth, and just barely warm to the touch.

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Time for some groovy scents. Citrus scents are said to be uplifting and enhance happiness, so we chose lime and orange and Fiori di Sicilia for our two doughs. Just a few drops is plenty. You could also use extracts, or essential oils.  If your children are younger and you worry about “nibbling” you can leave the scents out. The dough is very salty, and one taste usually does the trick. Blechh!

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Time for COLOR, and lots of it. Playdough is like Halloween. No time for subtle colors. Our food colors are great for this project. Keep in mind the dough is creamy, even a little yellow to begin with, so that will affect the final color. Gloves will keep the color in the dough, and off of you.

Also, our food colors produce more realistic looking, softer colors. While not necessary, you may want to store them in the fridge, for the best shelf life.

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If you prefer a more marbleized look, don’t knead the color in completely. It will be fun to make globes, marbles etc. As you play with the dough the color will become more uniform.

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To make flat ornaments, roll the dough out and use your favorite cookie cutters. Use plenty of extra flour to prevent sticking. A drinking straw is excellent for cutting a hanging hole.

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With a few pinches, and well-placed squeezes, you can make all kinds of sculptures. Rainy days are good weather for ducks, eh?

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April showers bring May flowers. Shivani designed this colorful daisy, and used a fork to add texture to the petals. Thanks to the oils we used, it even smelled great!

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If your dough starts to dry out, just knead it vigorously for a few moments, and it will soften right up.

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Watch as inspiration hits. First the pink ball, then the pink and yellow ball. Hey, that looks a lot like…

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Easter eggs!

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A few more pinches, and you’ve got a nest.

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How many things can you do with a fork? Well, plenty!

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Stripes…

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…zigzags…

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spots, holes, waffles, dots,

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How ’bout the other end?

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Scales! Bring on the snakes, fishes, and turtles.

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Don’t just poke, try drawing in the dough. A great way to practice letters and numbers.

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Another great way to practice letters and numbers. Perfect for young writers trying to grasp “b” versus “d.”

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Shivani and I were curious as to whether the dough would stick to windows. Yep, it does. I’m guessing it would stick to mirrors and bathtubs while it was still soft. What a great way to make a mural on the bathtub wall with nearly no mess.

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If you’re wondering just what tools we used, this is it. Nothing too fancy, just everyday tools from the cupboards.

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Quite the collection we made on our rainy day, with plenty of dough left over for tomorrow’s adventures. Shivani and I spent a great afternoon getting to know each other and though she didn’t want her picture taken, she did leave us with a smile.

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Happy rainy day fun to you!

Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Homemade Playdough.

MaryJane Robbins
About

MaryJane Robbins grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Vermont 20 years ago. After teaching young children for 15 years, she changed careers and joined King Arthur Flour in 2005. MaryJane began working on King Arthur Flour's baker’s hotline in 2006, and the blog team ...

comments

  1. Mrs. Hittle

    This is pretty nearly the same recipe we’ve used for years, only ours is cooked on the stove rather that simply mixed with hot water. We had a whole canister of cookie cutters that were used for play dough more than for cookies. We also used the discs from a cookie press to make stamps. In a college class, a fellow student demonstrated play dough coloured with Kool Aid powder– colour and scent in one step! We always just used liquid food colouring, though.

    Reply
  2. RJ

    Happy rainy day, indeed! Can’t wait to try this with my 5 year old! He is going to love it! Thanks so much!! :-)
    Have a great time, make a snake for me! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  3. A

    Ok, so playdough is the “thing” in our house. My three little boys go nuts for it, and will play for hours and hours with the brightly colored lumps. I didn’t like the recipes I’d been using the past few years, some were too gritty, some dried out immediately, some were pasty and didn’t hold their shape well. So last year I tried about 10 different recipes one weekend and then combined them to come up with the “perfect” dough. It’s soft, silky, pliable, doesn’t dry out even if left out overnight (which has happened!), and stays fresh despite being dropped on the floor and rolled in leftover crackers from lunch. We store the balls in ziplocs, and make a new color every few weeks.

    The secret to the color and smell is powdered drink mix envelopes, and the cream of tartar and vegetable oil are also a must. I just wanted to give you my favorite new recipe so you could compare and contrast to your recipe another rainy day if you wanted!

    The Perfect Playdough Recipe :)

    2 C. Flour
    4 tsp Cream of Tartar
    1 C. Table Salt
    2-4 packages of kool-aid (depending on how deep you want the color. I normally use 4 no matter what color I make. Tropical punch is our family favorite for a LOVELY red and a great scent!)

    Stir ingredients together in a large pot.
    Turn stove on medium high and add:

    2 C. Water
    2 T. Oil (I usually use Canola)

    Use a whip to make sure you have all the major flour lumps out, and all the flour from the edges stirred in. Switch to a heavy heat-proof scraper or a wooden spoon and start stirring. DO NOT STOP! It will start to stick on the bottom, and you want to get up as much as you can and continue to turn it over. As it quickly cooks it will go from glossy to matte, and you want to try and get the glossy parts down by the heat when you’re stirring. Once it forms a nice ball smash it down with your spoon to make sure there are no more sticky parts inside and then dump it on a counter. This will take (depending on the stove and pot) anywhere from 4-7 minutes.

    Knead until cool. Thanks for sharing your recipe with us. It makes me want to go make some even without little ones around! Mary @ KAF

    I have made the Kool Aid playdough in the past. Call me sensitive, but I always reminds me of playing with a big warm blob of chewing gum. Not so bad once it cools though. Thanks for sharing! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  4. Rachel M

    I’ve made playdough with this type of recipe before, and it does turn out fantastic. I have a question though; why does the cream of tartar make such a difference? I know through experience that the doughs created with it come out a lot better, but what specifically does it contribute?

    The large amount of salt in this recipe “tightens” the dough. By adding cream of tartar, which changes the pH to more acid, it relaxes the dough making it more pliable. Frank @ KAF.

    Reply
  5. Cathy Basdekis

    We used the cooked dough recipe for years in our pre-school; it keeps really well. A fellow teacher omitted the color and scent, and replaced a portion of the flour with some cocoa powder, and vanilla or almond extract to make “chocolate dough” around Valentine’s Day. She took an empty heart-shaped candy box, and the kids pretended to make Valentine’s chocolates for their classmates (everyone was reminded that it was only PRETEND candy). Lots of fun for all.
    What a terrific idea! I was laughing when I saw the picture of the snake, saying any former student of mine will recognize that snake as a variation I have made for years! I love the candy idea, I’ll have to give it a try. Thanks for sharing. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  6. Wyla Miller

    It says that the colors are natural. What does that mean? We have a little one that can not have any artificial flavoring or coloring. Even though, the play dough is not to eat. Just wondering.
    Hi Wyla,
    The food colors used do not contain any Red dye # this or blue Lake # that. They are made from ingredients such as beta carotene and red cabbage. You can drop our bakers a line, and they will be happy to list all the ingredients for you. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  7. Lyna Rizor

    Have you ever tried Edible Playdough? The receipe I have says to cream together 3 1/2 cups smooth peanut butter and 4 cups confectioners sugar, beat in 3 1/2 cups honey then fold in 4 cups dry milk powder. Refrigerate or freeze until ready to use. Are there other edible playdough ideas out there?

    Reply
  8. Mary C

    Also gingerbread playdough! Same recipe, just dumping gingerbread spices until you get it the color you want (and scent)….

    Fun to make around the holidays. I do this with my K class when I can…

    Reply
  9. Margy

    We used bread and glue dough with slightly older kids. Easy recipe–the cheapest brand of store-brought squishy soft white brand, cut off the crusts and make crumbs: for each slice add 1 tablespoon of white craft glue, a little food color or acrylic paint to tint if you want, and knead it all together. At first you think that it will never come together, but keep at it and you have a beautiful smooth ball. It can be rolled very thin, is very elastic, and dries to a porcelain-like finish (makes very thin petals for realistic flowers).

    Reply
  10. Buffy

    Well, shades of Adele Davis!……….
    For 50 years we’ve used a different variation of Lyna’s recipe.

    Same proportions but it’s peanut butter, dry milk powder, and honey.
    The kids measure, mix, shape into roughly 1″ balls and they are ready to eat.
    It’s fine to roll them in ground nuts, or coconut, or………..
    But the only ‘play’ was in the making, and we always call them candy.
    The milk and peanut butter combine to create more complete proteins than either ingredient alone., the honey adds some sweetness but is really there to hold it all together and gives the peanut butter a bit more ‘slide’.

    Reply
  11. HomeBird

    Just had to tell you what a great time a bunch of grown women had with this stuff last week. I made 11 half-size batches as party favors, each a different color and “scent” using Kool-Aid as suggested when possible, but gel colors and oils for others. 6 of us, ranging from 22 to 57 stood around a wax paper covered work table, totally absorbed in our little creative fancies which ranged from beads & bangles to a reef scene, a farm scene, a Koi fish, a cheeseburger and the solar system. Sometimes you have to take a break from work to just have fun!

    Reply
  12. Diana

    Why did my playdough turn white when it dried? I tried the flour, salt, tartar receipe and used food coloring.
    The white coloring is from the dried salt. It is not harmful, and can be painted over with craft paints if desired. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  13. Lisa

    I need to make this for a group of 12 four year olds. How much does one batch yield? I don’t want to have too much but not too little either… thanks!
    Hi Lisa,
    I don’t have a total cup per batch but from past experience, I’d make a double batch. You know someone will drop theirs on the floor, etc. Plus, you want to have some to play with yourself, right? :) Have fun! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  14. charlottelynn321

    Hi, I’ve been trying recipes for my three kids, and they all come out too sticky to play with! This is the 5th, after reading so many reviews of different ones online. I followed it exactly, but 20 minutes of mixing and kneading hasn’t made it smooth. I added a bit more flour and salt, too. I’m using KAF white flour, and the water was very hot from my Keurig coffee machine. Is there a specific downfall for play dough I may be falling into? My kids get so excited every time, and then I have to throw it out! I’ve still got this one here, hoping to salvage it!
    It may be that while the water is hot, it’s not boiling. Try boiling the water and see if that makes a difference. Also, it’s okay to add more flour to make a less sticky consistency. ~ MaryJane

    Reply

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