When my son was a toddler, we went through a very big “sensory activities” phase. Any new texture that he could squish or mould (and incorporate into his dinosaur battles) would keep him occupied for dozens of precious minutes. He loved regular Play-Doh, so I went in search of a homemade version that would be a little softer and fluffier and found a favourite right away.
What’s great about making it at home is that you get more dough for your buck and its non-toxic if you happen to have the sort of child that likes to sneak a nibble here or there. (The sodium level is high, so we shouldn’t encourage full-on snacking, but a little won’t hurt.) I got this recipe from KidsActivities.com, but you can find variations of it all over Pinterest.
Start by mixing the following ingredients in a bowl:
2 cups of flour
1/2 cup of salt
2 Tbsps cream of tartar
2 Tbsps vegetable oil (or any kitchen oil)
Next, pour in 1-1/2 cups of boiling water. Mix the water together with the ingredients until they form a dough. You should be careful here, because you just added boiling water, so this dough is hot.
If you want plain-coloured dough, you’re done! If you want to add some colour, wait for your dough to cool completely and then break it apart into sections. Roll the sections into balls, place them on wax or parchment paper to protect the surface from stains, and then create an indent in the centre of each ball to form a little bowl for the dye. Like so:
You could add just one colour or mix dyes at this step to create other colours. Knead the dough to fully incorporate the dye. (You may want to use plastic or rubber gloves at this point to prevent stains on your hands.) You can continue to create indents and add a few more drops of dye as you knead, depending on how vibrant you want the colours to be.
When my son was done playing, I wrapped the dough in plastic wrap and stored in a large resealable plastic bag in a cool location and it lasted for months.
The Kids Activities writer found that hers would start to take on a sour smell after a month or two, but she had success with adding a couple of drops of extracts, such as peppermint or orange, to mask the smell. (Plus it adds an extra “sensory” element to the activity.)
The stuff really is remarkably soft, and I found it to be more satisfying to squish and manipulate than the store-bought stuff. It does still crumble somewhat, as you can see in the top picture, but it was easily cleaned up by pressing the large ball of dough to the crumbly bits.
You can even enlist your kids to help with the measuring, mixing or kneading—just make sure the dough is cooled from the boiling water all the way through to the centre before they start that step.
Giant plastic dinosaurs are optional.