Fine Motor,  Playdoh

The Power of Playdough

I admit it.  I’m a playdough snob. 
I know all about how good playdough is for kids to work those small muscles and build strength in their hands.  I value the sensory experience a child gets from playing with a mound of colored dough. 
Here’s the thing…it’s just not happening with that canned stuff in my classroom.  My preschool students don’t play with store-bought playdough. I guess they’re playdough snobs, too.
Aside from the fact it’s expensive and way too difficult for little hands to work with, I have a few concerns with the extra ingredients of commercial brand of Playdoh.  According to Wikipedia…
Play-Doh’s current manufacturer, Hasbro, reveals the compound is primarily a mixture of water, salt, and flour,[2] while its 2004 United States patent indicates it is composed of water, a starch-based binder, a retrogradation inhibitor, salt, lubricant, surfactant, preservative, hardener, humectant, fragrance, and color.[10] A petroleum additive gives the compound a smooth feel, and borax prevents mold from developing.
So I really don’t know much about retrogradation inhibitors and surfactants.   I only know that my favorite playdough recipe is simple and contains common household ingredients I can easily pronounce:
  1. Flour
  2. Water
  3. Salt
  4. Cream of Tartar
  5. Vegetable Oil
  6. Food Coloring
I love homemade playdough because it’s soft and easy for tiny hands to squeeze.  It holds together really well so you can form it into balls or make long skinny snakes without it crumbling all over the place. Homemade playdough is ideal for the monthly Fine Motor Practice we do at preschool!
Each month, I make a couple of batches of playdough for my class to use during Table Time. I usually stir in the Color of the month from my assortment of food colorings.  I love these gel colors!  They combine well when you’re cooking the flour mixture plus they won’t spill on your kitchen counters. 
The CLASSIC assorted colors are a must if you want to make your own playdough.  They are pure and true colors.  I don’t have much luck mixing them to create new colors but for basic primary colors of dough, you just can’t go wrong with the Classics. 
The NEONs are fun and your students will absolutely love them.  Oh, this is the perfect time of year to check your local Big Lots for the FALL box of food colorings.  Rich, deep colors perfect for making beautiful autumn-colored playdough.
I always double the recipe…and then I make it AGAIN and double it that time, too.  So basically for my class supply, I have four batches of playdough.  I have tried tripling or quadrupling the recipe all in one pan and trust me…you can’t even stir it!  So doubling seems to work best.
Here are my best tips for making your own homemade playdough…
  1. Use plain, all purpose flour
  2. Mix the food coloring of your choice with the water BEFORE you add it to the flour mixture.  It just mixes more evenly with the flour this way.
  3. Spray the pot with non-stick cooking spray before you start
  4. Don’t substitute olive oil for the cooking oil.  Trust me on this one!
  5. Cook over medium heat & stir constantly.  
  6. You’ll know it’s done when a huge ball forms and it gets REALLY difficult to stir.
  7. Turn out onto waxed paper and let cool.  I usually knead it a bit.
Here are two batches (remember, each was doubled so this is actually FOUR recipes) I made today.
After it’s cooled about 10 minutes on the waxed paper, I start dividing it in half, then half again, and so on.  That’s how I get a portion for each student to be fairly similar in size. 
Once I have it all divided, I store each child’s playdough ball in a plastic sandwich bag and label it with their name.  This is their playdough for the entire month.
I think it works better for each child to have their own bag so it’s worth the effort to divvy it up.  Not only for cleanliness sake but also it helps teach kids to take care of their playdough.  If you drop huge chunks on the floor or don’t clean your area up, then by the end of the month you might only have a teeny tiny ball of playdough left to take home. 
But at least it wasn’t made with any inhibitors or surfactants! 


  • Amanda

    I just made playdoh Monday night in preparation for the first day on Tuesday. I've never seen the fall colors food coloring, but it is in my list next time I go to Big Lots! My favorite is playing with the playdoh while it is still warm.

    A Very Curious Class

  • Jackie Kops

    Home made playdoh is amazing! I use the same recipe. I made birthday play doh yesterday with my students. I left the dough the cream color it naturally comes out to be answered let the kids smash in real sprinkles. They LOVED it!