Play dough and other sensory materials are very popular with children of all ages. I like play dough because unlike paint and many of our other sensory activities there is little set-up time required for play dough. I always have a batch of prepared play dough stored in my refrigerator. The fact that it is cold at the beginning of the activity and warm at the end is an added sensory experience.
The recipe I like to use most often is;
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup salt
- 3 Tbsp cream of tartar
- 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
Combine flour, salt and cream of tartar in a medium sized saucepan. Add water and oil: cook over medium heat stirring constantly. When mixture pulls away from side of pan and forms a large ball, remove from heat and let cool. Knead dough, divide and add food colouring if desired.
I do usually add some time of colouring to the dough and sometimes I add herbs, spices or some other scented material as well. I have plenty of tools to use with play dough – knives, scrapers, icing decorators, cookie cutters etc but I find that many of the children become so focused on tool ‘ownership’ that the play dough gets forgotten. Since this is a ‘process’ activity there is never a required product so I rarely offer tools unless the children specifically ask for them.
I chose not to add any colouring or scents to the latest batch of play dough. Instead, I started the activity by introducing foam ropes and tissue paper. The children then got to rip the tissue paper into tiny pieces and cut the foam rope – this was more challenging than I anticipated. The foam was so dense that none of the children’s knives could cut through it. Scissors worked but the cut pieces tended to fly everywhere – amusing to some of the children but annoying to anyone (me) trying to collect all the pieces.
The children then had the opportunity to mix the foam and paper into their dough – three very different textures.
Some chose to add their ‘decorations’ one at a time while others did so by the handful. Some used tools and played with their play dough as usual during the decorating process.
Interestingly several of them mixed the paper and foam pieces in the dough and then meticulously picked them all out and then mixed them in again. In fact, we have played with this dough several times since we first made it and ‘undecorating’ it has been a very popular activity – fantastic for fine motor skills.
By far my favourite response to this activity came from the school-age children. When they arrived after school and went to wash their hands for snack they saw the post-activity play dough on the counter. They were super excited about having ‘cookies’ for snack – followed by a little disappointment that it was just play dough.