Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Homemade Play Dough

Our kitchen really is, for better or worse, the center of our household. Physically, it is the newly-built room that connects the two hundred-year-old houses we renovated into one sprawling, slightly odd residence, but of course I am being a little less literal when I refer to it as our center. The majority of our time is spent in this room, if not cooking and eating, then doing schoolwork, playing and writing. There is now a race car rug by the fireplace, parking against the walls for not one, but two tricycles; a small table for coloring and other art projects, a drawer devoted to marbles, a basket full of two or three thousand Hot Wheels, and a paint-spattered school desk that I pull up next to the kitchen table when The Big Boy practices his handwriting.

We love this room.

The kids have long since learned to appreciate cooking time, and they both happily pull up chairs on which to stand and, um, help me prepare meals; and the sound of the mixer will bring them careening from opposite ends of the property so they can be first to lick the beater. Come to think of it, I even kept a bassinet in the kitchen for Little Miss Piggy when she was an infant, and her favorite book for the longest time was A Little Book of English Teas. The Big Boy still happily snuggles up to look through cookbooks and cooking magazines with me, and can spend hours debating the merits of different cake icings. His picture pages that we make for letter sounds are, of course, covered in clippings of food photographs ('A' is for avocados, asparagus, apples; 'F' is for fruit, fish, fennel...).

I can only hope these are the things happy childhood memories are made of. I mean, I spent my formative years following my mother around her garden, and that has been nothing but a positive influence in my life. This should be the same, right?

It's either that, or they'll spend thousands on therapy with which to overcome this madness...

Lately, our learning projects have begun to take over the kitchen - after all, what other room is as full of math manipulatives and craft supplies - and the kids have learned the absolute joy involved in making our own play dough.

Actually, I don't think 'absolute joy' is an adequate enough descriptor in this case. The Big Boy was so transfixed the first time we made a batch, and he was so utterly thrilled by how quickly it came together, that he begs almost daily to make more, and I'm fast running out of plastic containers to devote to the cause (though I have found play dough containment to be the perfect use for those non-recyclable plastic ricotta cheese and sour cream tubs).

Play dough can be made with items nearly always kept around the house (well, the kitchen, at least) and is shockingly easy to make; so surprising, in fact, that I am embarrassed to admit I used to buy Play-Doh at the store. And while the homemade version still should never be referred to as 'edible' (because who knows how toxic food coloring really is), at least I don't sweat things nearly as much when Little Miss Piggy ingests her usual RDA serving of the fascinating little dough.

The whole preparation takes less than 15 minutes, it seems to keep nearly forever as long as it is kept in an air-tight container (after being pried from the plump little hands of sleeping youngsters), and the texture of this stuff is far superior to the store-bought version. Truth be told, I now grab handfuls of homemade play dough and squeeze it like a stress ball when I go through those inevitable, not-quite-daily, moments in which I question my sanity in choosing to embark on this homeschool adventure in the first place.


HOMEMADE PLAY DOUGH (makes about two cups)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1 Tbs vegetable oil
  • 2 tsps cream of tartar
  • 5 to 10 drops of food coloring
  1. Combine the flour, water, salt, oil and cream of tartar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture forms a ball, about 3 to 5 minutes.
  2. Cool on waxed paper for a couple minutes.
  3. When cool enough to handle, knead in the food coloring a few drops at a time until desired color is achieved.
  4. Store in a plastic container or ziplock bag.


Mo said...

Do you all have cochineal food colouring? It is a really attractive pink and made from..... beetles! It happens to be a favourite additive to supermarket ready meals. Major yeuch!!
I was really glad when our ASDA (your Wallmart) started stocking food colouring containing only natural products, and no cochineal altho that could be described as very natural!

Mama JJ said...

I like the new blog look!

nancy said...

Sarah, that's the exact recipe I used for years. It's wonderful stuff. Then I noticed the recipe right underneath that one in the Rainy Day Activities book I have. This recipe is even easier, very similar dough, and cools much faster for little hands to get into:
Heat to boiling- 1 1/2 cups water and 1/2 cup salt
Remove from heat and add- 2T salad oil and 2T powdered alum. I use cream of tartar instead, about 2tsp or so as in other recipe.
Cool 5 minutes- I don't wait very long before I knead in the 2-3 cups of flour, as I'm in as much of a hurry to start messing with this soft dough as the kids. Divide and add whatever coloring you want. I like to leave some without coloring as one of the choices, since it's a nice "white".
Recipe says it will last one month or so. Not sure, as ours always aquired crumbs and fuzz and other yuck and needed to be tossed before that.

Fun to read about you and your kiddos enjoying so many activities together. Ours are grown or in middle school, so playdough days are pretty much over. But our older girls still talk about the things we did together or that I made for them. The best was a cardboard box stove, complete with spool knobs and butter tub lids for burners.

Nancy in Iowa

Becky said...

Thanks for sharing this! It was in fact very easy and another great opportunity to demystify a store product for my daughter. To be determined very soon... does the homemade version end up olive green in the end as well? Give me another 24 hours and I'll know. Currently yesterday's batch is sporting somewhat of a tiedye look.

Lee said...

I just wanted to thank you for this recipe. One night when we couldn't burn excess energy at the park I made this together with 3 of my kids and they had such fun mixing in the colors. I have a set of 16 paste colors so we could get colors really bright which they deemed "truly like playdo!" LOL Anyway, it gave me a true 30 minutes of quiet in my house; you don't have any idea how unusual that is! :-)