Play dough: An easy indoor activity

Summer heat hit hard this year! Last weekend we were up to 95° and 76% humidity. Normally I would suck it up and get the kids out side but that is well over my limit. We went for an early walk on Saturday morning thinking we would beat the heat of the day but I couldn’t hack it. I “feared for the dog’s health” and retreated to my central air as fast as I could.

My kids are too young to lock them outside  let them loose outside without supervision. I needed to come up with something fun on the fly before I lost ’em. Tired, hot and not in the mood for a mess, I settled on homemade play dough. It’s something all four of us can have fun with!

There are lots of play dough recipes floating around out there, but this one is my favorite. It does require cooking but, in my humble opinion, this version feels the most like the name brand stuff to me.

Play Dough Recipe


  • 2 cups of flour
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 cup of salt
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 Tablespoons cream of tartar (optional – adds elasticity)
  • Pack of Kool-Aid, food coloring, colorful spices or any source of color you want to test out

Mix all the ingredients together and stir over low heat.

As you stir, the dough will start to resemble mashed potatoes and then start to clump up.  When the dough pulls away from the sides and clumps in the center, remove the pan from heat. Allow the dough to cool before handling.






My Tips

Turtle and Buddy both like to help when we mix up a batch of play dough. I think it’s easiest to mix the dry ingredients into one large bowl and split it into two saucepans (one color for each kid) before adding wet ingredients and heat. I let the kids stir until they get tired then mix everything completely before adding food coloring and turning on the stove. Food coloring is last because I think it looks cool to stir in the color when other ingredients are smooth. Plus, it gives you a better idea of what your color will actually look like in case you’re going for something specific.  (Also, you don’t have to wait to turn on the heat before stirring it all up. I just don’t want to find out I’m not able to safely manage two kids “helping” over a hot stove.)

If you want more colors or don’t want to get multiple pans dirty, you can cook the dough before adding your coloring. Let the dough cool, then split the dough into small chunks and knead in the coloring.

play dough

When I tell Buddy to keep an eye on things, he takes his job seriously.

The first time I made this recipe, my play dough came out really sticky. If that happens, just put it back on the stove and let it dry out. If it comes out crumbly, just put some water or oil on your hands and knead it through the dough. Basically, you don’t have to stand there and stir the whole time it’s cooking. But it is helpful to keep your eyes on it so it comes out just right.

When you’re done playing, store the dough in a plastic bag or wrap it in plastic wrap. As long as there’s no air to dry it out, this stuff will last a LONG time.

Important Note: This is a non-toxic recipe for humans but do not let your pets ingest any of it. Salt is very bad for cats and dogs and there’s a lot of it in homemade play dough. I also advise against humans eating it because of the high amount of salt but that warning is less severe. Hopefully the terrible taste would deter the smarter species.

Things to do with the dough

Playing with play dough is a great activity for the young’ns. The stretching, squashing and kneading helps build up muscles in their hands, which is good for developing those fine motor skills. There are lots of things you can do with play dough but here’s five easy ideas to get you started!

  1.   Cookie cutters: Since younger children have a harder time forming play dough, adding cookie cutters to the mix might make it a bit more fun for them. We like to use Discovery Toys’s Place & Trace. This was a Christmas present for Buddy when he was first getting into puzzles. They’ve been handed down to Turtle but we also use them as stencils, cookie cutters and play dough cutters.IMG_7605
  2. Imprints: For some reason, I never get tired of pressing things into play dough. Obviously there’s your hand but your kids can get creative with other things around the house. We opted for trucks and forks. Buddy started by making tracks with his trucks, sending each to a different destination (Target, Home Depot, Chipotle…we live exciting lives here). Then, he pressed down on one of his Hot Wheels and saw the structure imprinted in the dough. He was fascinated. Soon, he had all 3,267 Hot Wheels stuck in play dough. Turtle was happy making dots with her fork. Regardless of what you use, this is a good introduction to experimenting and creating patterns and textures. As they get older, they’ll be able to add the textures they’re experimenting with now to  more advanced dough trucks
  3. Pipe Cleaners: Add pipe cleaners to anything and you can make it more fun. Make a play dough pot and stick pipe cleaner flowers in for some fancy decor. If your kids aren’t quite up to that challenge, let them roll play dough in a ball and show them the pipe cleaner can stick in the dough and stand. If you have beads, let them put beads on for more fine motor skill/eye-hand coordination practice.
  4. Emotions: Flatten some dough on the table and make a blank face. Give your kids an emotion and ask them to roll up the eyes, nose, mouth, etc. to give the face the expression to match your emotion. You could couple this with a rousing game of Flip Flop Faces to really get them moving!
  5. Letters and Numbers: Since you can make anything with play dough, why not use it to make letters and numbers? This can help those kinesthetic learners practice recognizing letters and numbers or practice math and spelling.

I hope that helps with your future play dough fun!


What else do you like to do with play dough?