Endless Play—and Possibilities!—with Dough

Making play dough is one of our favorite activities at Zion’s Hill Preschool Program … for children and teachers alike! But did you know that the original Play-Doh® was first made as a wallpaper cleaner in the 1930s? Upon learning that young children found modeling clay too difficult to manipulate, the manufacturer sent some of the pliable cleaning material to local schools in Cincinnati. Word quickly spread: the product was showcased at an education convention in 1955, and a year later, Play-Doh® was born. It has stood the test of time and is now in the National Toy Hall of Fame, for good reason. Children love the texture and feel of the material, and they get to make—and remake—all manner of shapes and treasures. Parents love that the material is virtually mess-free (and may even have super cleaning powers—who knew?). And educators love that the tactile material develops hand strength necessary for writing, encourages other fine-motor skills such as rolling and cutting, and is the perfect vehicle to foster imaginative, creative, and cooperative play.

Play dough is so easy to make, and the variations are endless. We experiment with different colors, flavors, and textures to incorporate even more sensory experiences. Our dough tends to change with the seasons. In the fall, we jumped on the pumpkin spice bandwagon and whipped up a batch of orange, cinnamon, and nutmeg-scented dough. Other times, we’ve fancied an evergreen-hued, peppermint-infused dough for the winter, or have added glitter for textural and visual bling. Recently, our Three’s class set out to make a brown dough with coffee grounds for texture, sight, and smell. The children measured and mixed the ingredients and smelled the grounds.

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The children watched as a teacher added hot water and worked the dough. They were excited to feel the final product, and have been happily playing with their coffee dough all week long. See if you can identify the skills they are building through this play!

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Here is our go-to dough recipe. Try it at home, and unleash YOUR creativity. Be sure to share any special batches that you invent!
1 cup flour
½ cup salt
2 tablespoons cream of tartar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup boiling water
Food coloring, watercolor, flavored drink packets (e.g., Kool-Aid®), glitter, extracts, etc.

In a large bowl, add all dry ingredients and mix well. Add the oil and boiling water to the mixture and mix with a large spoon until firm. After a few minutes of stirring, it should be cool enough to handle. Roll and manipulate with your hands to evenly incorporate any coloring or flavor options. If sticky, roll on wax paper and some flour.

—Jessica Joy