Play dough doesn’t need to be messy and it is a brilliant tool for learning many skills and fine-tuning hand-eye coordination.

I still remember the smell of opening a new tub of PlayDoh when I was a kid. It was the smell of hours of fun! As I got older I preferred Plasticine, it came in a bigger variety of colours and didn’t dry up the same way Playdoh did.

Thanks to the internet we now have loads of play dough recipes at our disposal and I’m sure my mom would have jumped at this, and saved herself a small fortune!

I’m going to share my favourite recipe in the post and some ideas on how to use the play dough once you have made it. Of course, just letting the kids do whatever they want with it is a great option but it can be used in so many different ways!

Plus it is a brilliant way for children to work on their hand-eye coordination and to strengthen their pincer muscles, ready for writing. It is also a great tool for teaching numerous concepts and ideas.

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Small boy holding rainbow playdough balls on a stick

My all-time favourite play dough recipe

This no-cook play dough recipe is amazing and can be used for up to 6 months if stored in an airtight container in the fridge. Get a printable version of the recipe and counting mats from the free resource library here.


  • 2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup salt (this stops them from eating it!)
  • 2 tablespoons cream of tartar (this helps preserve it)
  • 1-2 cups boiling water
  • Food colour / scent (see below)
  • optional 1-2 tsp liquid glycerine (helps make it stretchy)


  • Mix together the flour, salt, cream of tartar, any scented ingredients, and oil in a large mixing bowl.
  • Add the colour to the water.
  • Slowly add in the water and stir until it becomes dough-like. It should be a bit sticky.
  • Add the glycerine.
  • Cool then knead until it gets to the perfect play dough consistency. If it is too sticky, add a little more flour.

Experiment with your play dough

There are lots of things you can add to give your play dough that extra sensory kick. It’s nice to add things to match the season or theme that you are currently working on.

Spices work well, cinnamon, allspice, ginger etc.

Essential oils can also be added, if you want your child to feel calm whilst playing with their dough try adding lavender oil, or crushed lavender flowers. Peppermint, lemon, pine… whatever you have at hand!

Raid your kitchen cupboard and experiment. Coffee grounds not only smell amazing but give the dough a different texture. Cocoa powder can make a lovely smooth dough.

Once you have the basic recipe down you can have fun trying out different variations.

You can also experiemnt with colour, we usually used food colour but sometimes it’s interesting to see what happens if you use something like beetroot juice – just be aware that some dyes to stain! Ask me how it went with tumeric lol!

More sensory activity ideas here.

Small boy playing with homemade playdough

Ways to play with play dough

Unstructured Play

You don’t need to give your child structured play every time, sometimes just giving them the play dough and a few things to use as instruments is enough, let them play their way. You can raid your kitchen drawers for tools or try one of the many sets available. My son would have loved this dinosaur set. There are lots of different sets available, find one that suits your child’s interests or use them as inspiration to create your own.

Structured Play

Other times you might want to use play dough as a way to introduce or strengthen a concept that you have been learning about. Learning about landforms for example would fall under this category.

When that is the case you will show the child what to do (or present the lesson if you are following Montessori) and then let the child do their own version.

Invitation To Play

Another way to get kids involved is by setting up a tray as an invitation to play (learn more about this concept here). Have the play dough and objects to use with it out on the shelf so the child can choose when they get inspired. With your dough you could include:

  • Toy vehicles
  • Toy animals/trees/plants
  • Sticks, twigs and leaves
  • Acorns, pine cones etc.
  • Shells
  • Cookie cutters
  • Combs, brushes and anything else that. create interesting patterns and textures
  • Rubber stamps
  • Molds
  • Bottle caps and other recycling bits
Miniature African landscape made of homemade playdough

Activities using play dough

There are loads of great ways to use play dough, here are a few to get you going. One of the great things about play dough is that you can bring it into almost any topic that you are covering and create a topic-based activity.

Colour mixing with play dough

Usually, colour mixing activities involve paint but play dough works extremely well too. Start by mixing up 3 lots of play dough in red, yellow and blue.

From there show how to mix secondary then tertiary colours to create a colour wheel. Before the child actually mixes the colours get them to predict what colour they think it will make.

Rainbow color wheel made of playdough

Footprints with play dough

This is a great extension if you are studying animals. You can use plastic toys to make the footprints, and compare them with 3-part cards of footprints or a book, are they accurate? Or use a set of stamps like these

Take it a step further and collect your family’s foot/handprints. You could enlist the help of any willing pets too!

Making a dam using play dough

Using a deep baking tray or plastic container, help your kids learn about water. This ties in wonderfully if you are studying about beavers for example. Learn all about how they make their dams and lodges then try your hand at making one at home.

Montessori Landforms

There is a great activity in Montessori where children learn about different landforms, what I love about the Montessori way of doing it is that it’s really hands-on. The child is encouraged to create the landforms themselves and then add water so not only do they learn about the forms in 3D, they can physically manipulate the forms. Leading to a deeper understanding of how the world was made.

Small boy making playdough landforms

Using Play Doh for Pincer Muscle Training

In Montessori there are a lot of activities that have a secondary function. Such as the knobs on the puzzle pieces. They are designed in a way to help the child strengthen their pincers muscles (the ones in the hand used for writing). So that when the child is ready to start writing their hand muscles are already strong enough for the task.

Rolling the play dough into balls or snakes, pinching and pulling… it all helps work those muscles. Even if you haven’t set up an ‘educational’ element for the activity, the child is always working on something. Plus free play where they get to use their imagination or copy and create the world around them is also a way for them to learn.

Use playmats

There are lots of types of playmats that you can download. I have some in the Ethiopia 193 Little Adventures Pack or you can make your own to fit with what your child is engaged with at the moment. Laminate the mat or put it in a hard plastic cover then show your child how to decorate it or solve the puzzle using the play dough.

Montessori classroom activity using playdough

Use Play Dough For Stop Motion

What about older kids? Play dough isn’t just for the little ones. Challenge older kids to make a stop motion animation using a tablet or phone and play dough. Their first attempt might be a bit basic so encourage them to think of a storyline and plan out what is going to happen before they start filming.

Here is a simple over view of how it works…

And this one shows more of what you need on the equipment side. Stop motion is a great project and helps kids to focus and concentrate as the create their movie. It also encourages them to create rather than consume screentime. (More about that concept here)

I’m sure there are even more ways you can enjoy play dough with your kids!

One final word, Many moms worry about the mess when using sensory equipment. To start with, set out rules and expectations. Keep the mess contained!

Using a big baking sheet or tray works well.

And the other thing to consider is making clean up part of the process, when the kids have finished, don’t let them off the hook. Have them help with the cleaning up too!

Don’t forget to grab your printable recipe and counting mats here from the library (fill in the form below)