One of my favorite activities to share with young children are those involving Play-Dough and other moldable substances. They involve the 5 senses through various textures, scents, etc. There is also so much to be learned about matter and how it performs. Children can build with it, use it for dramatic play, or create their own art. And of course, sensory dough is great for exercising fine motor skills.
If you are a childcare provider, you will likely need large amounts of ingredients to make dough for your classroom (the dollar store is your friend). But as a babysitter, parent, or nanny, you can oftentimes shop your own kitchen for ingredients. Here is a breakdown of what you need.
1. Cornstarch or Flour
The first item you will need is something to bind liquid ingredients into a solid. Cornstarch (or corn flour) and flour are commonly used for this purpose. If you want a smoother consistency you may want to use cornstarch, as flour is usually a little stickier. Some recipes may also call for a different binder, such as powdered sugar or baking soda.
Both of these ingredients of course are edible, which is a plus. If experimenting with your own recipe, add your corn starch or flour slowly to you mixture, adding more if your dough is too wet or sticky.
2. The Liquid/ Cream
Next will be your liquid product of choice. One option is yogurt dough. I have done this before with both flour and cornstarch and both work just fine. The yogurt of course must not have fruit chunks.
Another common option is frosting. This recipe (Ice-Cream Dough) is made by simply mixing powdered sugar and frosting. I have seen more advanced versions of this recipe, incorporating sprinkles, flour, and other ingredients, but this is the minimum needed.
There are also recipes that involve water and oils. This one, for example, uses flour, water, vegetable oil, salt, and cream of tartar.
3. Additional Color, Fragrance, or Bubbly Fun
You may choose to add a little something-something to make your dough more friendly to the senses. One option is to add additional color using food coloring. Always be careful with food coloring, because when applied to clothes or skin when wet, it can stain. From my experience, dyed doughs or rice usually does not transfer colors to the skin.
Another option is fragrance. Essential or cooking oils are one option. There are also recipes that involve Jell-O and Kool-Aid mix. Usually since this ingredient is dry, recipes will also need an oil such as vegetable or coconut oil, as well. Marshmallow dough and Kool-Aid dough are examples of this. I have even seen this recipe done with single drink flavors, such as Crystal Light.
Last, if you mix baking soda in your dough, it will cause it to bubble and fizz when exposed to vinegar.
Optional: Fluffy Dough
To make a dough recipe fluffy, the top ingredient used is shaving cream. This option is not edible, but is a fun texture for preschoolers and older children to experiment with. I have an example recipe here.
Optional: Non-Edible Doughs and Slimes
If working with preschoolers or older, you may consider some non-edible alternatives. For example, you can make a soft “cloud” dough by simply mixing flour and baby oil. An edible alternative would be to use vegetable oil instead of baby oil.
A couple common ingredients for slimes include Borax (a laundry product) and glue (simple Elmers glue works). This is an example recipe using glitter glue.
The last recipe I’d like to mention is dough made with just cornstarch and hair conditioner. Again, just two products that you probably have at home. For a chilly alternative, substitute the cornstarch for baking soda and place in the freezer before play.
Sample Recipes to Try