Perfect Play Dough

Back to school. For me, that means welcoming two new batches of preschoolers to the farm. The little sprouts love sensory activities, and there is nothing quite like a fresh batch of play dough to keep little hands busy. It is called “play” dough for a reason. Little sprouts should be  using it to play and have fun. I encourage them to mush it, squish it, mix it together. If they get excited about pressing leaves into it to see the imprints, and the dough gets dirty in the process, go for it! This stuff isn’t gold- you can always make more.

photo (3)

Here is my favorite recipe:

2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup salt
1 tablespoon alum OR cream of tartar (I prefer alum, but cream of tartar can be easier to find. They are both in the spice aisle of your grocery store)
1 3/4 cups boiling water
2 tablespoons oil


scent and color

Play dough is a great tactile sensory experience- but adding other sensory elements makes it that much more intriguing for little ones. I believe in the power of scent to change mood- I love to add lavender oil to my play dough. Peppermint, and cinnamon are other nice options for older kids- in my experience they need to be able to understand that the dough is not for eating before “dessert” type scents and flavors are added. When it comes to colors, a little dab will do ya. A few drops goes a long way. Having two different colors that the kids can mix and experiment with is always nice. Good old fashioned food coloring is the easiest, but liquid watercolor, or natural food colorants can also be added. I try to avoid adding food dyes to things that kids will be eating- but since this is not a food recipe, I don’t mind at all. The vibrant hues and ease of the droppers are very handy.


1 Mix flour and salt in a large bowl.

2 Heat water. It should be steaming. A full boil is not necessary.

3 In a glass measuring cup, mix alum, water, oil, and color and add to the flour/salt mixture. Stir until slightly cool.

4 Knead well. Invite your little sprouts to help you (test the temperature first!).  Add flour as needed until it is no longer sticky.

5 Store in an airtight container. Nobody likes crusty dough.

I like to toss the play dough every couple of weeks, for two reasons- the first being, that it gets GROSS. Kids are living petri dishes, and those little hands are conduits for all types of germs and bacteria. During cold and flu season, if I notice lots of sneezes, I sometimes discard the dough after one class. In my own home, because it’s being played with by the same little sprouts over and over, play dough gets a slightly longer lifespan. The second reason I like to toss it and make a new batch is this: kids thrive on variety. Changing the color, or the scent, or letting them add glitter or bird seed to change the appearance and texture of the dough makes it that much more fun!