Make Your Own Play Dough

Having small children - or indeed, older children - can sometimes make you feel as though you have a full-time job as an entertainer (and that's before you factor in the other roles you undertake, such as chauffeur, chef, banker, etc...). While family is wonderful and time together is something to be celebrated, it can be exhausting and frustrating in equal measure to hear yet another refrain of, "What shall we do now? I'm booooooooooooored..."

Not only does this place demands on your imaginative skills, but finding new and interesting things to do can also place a strain on your finances. In these situations, open-ended play can often be the answer. Activities that have no specific end point are brilliant because your child (or children) can decided how their game is supposed to be structured. An absence of 'right' and 'wrong' ways to play can also help to dissolve arguments between siblings and friends, because everyone can be 'right'!

Building blocks such as Duplo and Lego are good examples of toys that present endless possibilities for fun and offer a different experience each time they are used. Another good idea is using play dough, which can be squashed and remoulded over and over again and then packed away for use another day.

However, buying play dough can be expensive and it's galling to then to see your beautifully coloured doughs being mashed together into a dark sludgy brown (I'm hoping it's not only my children that do this!). Making your own play dough is therefore a great alternative and it costs no more than a few pence to make an impressively large amount. What's more, the process of making the play dough is easy and enjoyable in itself, so the children can get involved right from the very beginning through to playing with the results of their labours.

My elder son has recently started school, so my younger son and I decided to make our own play dough one morning while we were thinking of things to fill our new-found time alone together. It worked really well and was manageable (with some adult help, obviously) for him at two and a half years old, so could easily be completed independently by primary school aged children.

We followed this method, which was clear and easy to use:

As with all activities for young children, I would recommend getting your ingredients ready before you start. This makes things easier on you and also cuts down the waiting time for the children so impatience doesn't set in.

Because the quantities - which are given in cups and teaspoons - do not require the accurate reading of scales, younger children can easily get all the ingredients measured out themselves. My son was able to follow the instructions as I read them out to him and he only required a little bit of support measuring things out.

Measuring out ingredients

Once you've got everything you need, it's very simple to mix it all up together and we really enjoyed the sensory nature of this element of the activity.

Mixing dry ingredients together

Our next step was to add the food colouring into the dry ingredients. The only word of warning I'd add is that food colouring can easily stain some materials, so close supervision will be required when using this ingredient. Also, the recipe doesn't advise as to how much food colouring you should use, so from personal experience I'd recommend using at least a teaspoon's worth. If you would like brightly coloured play dough then you'll need considerably more than that.

Adding food colouring

Adding in the wet ingredients requires a little more care, but it's still possible for you to let children do most of the work. As your mixture now contains food colouring, you'll need to take care when stirring to ensure that it doesn't spill out of the bowl. We also found that the mixture was a bit tricky for little hands to start with, so I started off the mixing and then smaller hands took over once it was more pliable.

Mixing wet and dry ingredients together

Now that all the ingredients are combined you'll need to cook them for a bit. We did our our play dough in the microwave as I felt it was the safest method for my young son to join in with and observe. It's also quicker, which was a bonus!

Watching while it cooks

After a little break to let it cool down, we were ready to play with the results of our hard work. My son actually enjoyed squishing it while it was still warm (obviously I had checked the temperature first) and got stuck in the moment I told him he could.

Playing with homemade play dough

The play dough should last for at least two weeks if you store it in the fridge when it's not being used and there are so many different things you can do with play dough that you'll need no suggestions from me. However, there is absolutely no need to go and buy special equipment to use with the play dough - cutters, rollers, etc. My children were lucky enough to get some specific play dough tools last Christmas but they would, without doubt, be happy with our regular rolling pin and some of our cheap cookie cutters (Ikea is a good place to stock up on things like this if you don't currently own any).

If you find you've really enjoyed making play dough, why not give salt dough a try? You can bake or air dry salt dough until it's solid and then paint and decorate it, so it's ideal for homemade Christmas decorations!

We used this method from the channel 4 website recently and it worked very well: