How great is play dough? There’s nothing better than whipping up a new batch of play dough, and giving it to the children when it’s still warm. Play dough should definitely be a staple of every preschool (and home) as not only is it fun, but it also offers so many opportunities for learning and development.

Homemade play dough is easy to prepare


While store-bought play dough is easy to find, nothing beats homemade play dough. It’s simple to make, lasts for a long time, and once you have a basic recipe, you can change it in lots of different ways. Here’s my tried-and-tested favourite recipe:

  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 4 tablespoons of cream of tartar
  • 1 cup of salt
  • 2 cups of plain flour
  • 2 cups of warm water

Mix the ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat, until everything congeals, but try not to overcook it. Remove from heat and knead. For extra shiny play dough, add a teaspoon of glycerine. When it’s not in use, store your play dough in an airtight container.

Once you’ve got the basic recipe, it’s time to get creative! There are so many options to keep play dough exciting and enticing for children. Here are just a few suggestions to enhance this wonderful form of sensory play.

Your play dough with eco-friendly dyes and scents

Experiment with natural food dyes. If you make your play dough with the children, why not involve some science as well? Plus, its a great lesson about how dyes can be eco-friendly and found in nature. You could try turmeric, onion skins, beetroot, blueberries or spinach…or encourage the kids to forage in the garden and experiment with what they find! Will dandelion flowers make yellow dye? Test it and see! Once you have the ingredients, make your own dye by boiling, then simmering the cut pieces for around 20 minutes. Strain the liquid, then use it in your play dough recipe.

Add some scent: A few drops of essential oils will go a long way. Lavender is an obvious choice because it compliments the calming, soothing effect that using play dough has. Or, hunt through the spice shelf in the kitchen. Clove, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg are lovely spices that are great for the cooler autumn months. Or, try herbal tea bags – simply soak a few bags in hot water, then use it on your play dough recipe. Another option is to add fresh ingredients like herbs (basil, mint or oregano), desiccated coconut, or imitation essence like mint, chocolate, vanilla or strawberry.

Include textures, loose parts and printables


Experiment with different textures: Make patterns, prints and impressions in the play dough. Try offering treasures from nature such as leaves, sticks, bark, shells pine cones or seed pods. Or man-made items like as pieces of lace, buttons, or small toy animals (which are great for making footprints).

Add some loose parts: Use a good old garlic crusher for making oodles of noodles, or add small containers, spoons, glass stones, cocktail stirrers (such as umbrellas), nuts, bolts and screwdrivers, cooking equipment, or birthday candles. These all enhance imaginative play, and can be used in endless ways.

Add some printables: I’ve only recently discovered printable play dough mats, and I love them! They’ve been a fantastic resource in my ESL (English as a Second Language) classrooms to support the learning of new words, and to encourage conversation amongst the children. Simply print a few copies and laminate them or slip them into a plastic sleeve so they can be reused. Try these fun food play dough mats, people play dough mats or number mats.

What are your favourite additions to play dough?




This article was written by Wenone Hope (Blue Mountains, Australia).

Wenone was born and raised in the farming region of Wagga Wagga, Australia. She now finds herself teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) in the Czech Republic.  A teacher for 12 years, she has a background in Early Childhood Education and has also done postgraduate studies in Special Education and Early Intervention.  Wenone is an Early Childhood Consultant at Lipa Learning, and has also been a Preschool Educational Leader in the Blue Mountains and a Primary School Educational Director in Canberra, Australia.   She’s an advocate for inclusive education, where diversity in the classroom (and life!) is celebrated.  When she’s not in the classroom, she’s out in nature, playing roller-derby, traveling, or enjoying a good book.