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  • Writer's pictureVicki Manning

The ultimate guide to playdough!

I love playdough. The smell of the well-known brand instantly transports me back to my childhood. But since having my own, I've learnt the joys of homemade.

If you've shied away from playdough before as you're worried about the mess, I'm hoping to convert you! It really is my favourite medium for playing and learning with and it never fails to entertain!

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Not only is playdough tonnes of fun, but there are so many benefits to playing with it - here are just a few:

It's sensory

Sensory play is extremely therapeutic for children, it improves emotional regulation and helps with stress and anxiety. Playing with sensory materials such as playdough builds nerve connections in the brain which help children learn.

It develops fine motor skills

Manipulating playdough strengthens finger muscles, improves dexterity and helps develop hand-eye coordination. Add in some tools and there's even more opportunity to hone these skills. Playing with playdough helps prepare for using cutlery, writing, dressing, tying shoelaces and so much more!

Mr 6 using playdough to practice his scissor skills

It adapts to all ages and abilities

Mr 10 is a reluctant participator in activities - his ADHD means he struggles to focus - but he'll always get stuck into a playdough session. Store bought playdough has an age guide of 2+ but all three of my boys have experimented with it from a year old with supervision - it really is one of the best all-rounders in my opinion!

It encourages self-expression

Playdough is a great way for children to express themselves. It's the perfect creative outlet and it can be used to learn artistic concepts such as colour-mixing. I love spending time getting creative with my boys - it's a lovely way to bond and we've spent many a happy afternoon playing with playdough and chatting.

Playdough also encourages language development, problem-solving, and social interaction.

The best no-cook recipe

Here's the recipe we use; its so easy and if stored in an airtight container lasts for weeks.

You will need:

1. Mix together the water, a little food colouring (if using) and the oil.

2. Add the flour, salt and cream of tartar and bring together with a spoon.

3. Turn out the dough and knead for a few minutes to form a smooth, pliable dough.

You can adapt this recipe lots of ways, with different colours, flours or scents. Keep things plain if your little one is prone to putting things in their mouth, but for older children here are a few variations we have tried and loved:


Replace some of the boiled water with lemon juice. For a super fruity dough, add some lemon zest.

A lemony yellow playdough invitation


For dough that smells good enough to eat, replace 1/4 of the flour with cocoa powder and slightly reduce the water content. It will naturally colour the playdough a chocolate brown and give a wonderful scent.

We saved an old chocolate box to play with


Another yummy scent to add is vanilla extract, just 1/2 teaspoon is enough.

Vanilla playdough's perfect for making pretend cupcakes


If you're lucky enough to have lavender growing in your garden you can throw in some flowers, alternatively pop 2 or 3 drops of lavender oil in with the water for a calming playdough scent.


We had fun collecting fresh mint from the garden, tearing it up and adding to our playdough, but peppermint oil also works well - use a touch less vegetable oil to avoid splitting and pop in some green colouring.

Mint playdough with natural objects is so soothing


Torn up rose petals give a lovely burst of colour but if you want something more long-lasting then add a few drops of rose oil.

Pumpkin Spice

Perfect for autumn or Halloween play, add 1 tbsp of mixed spice to your flour mix.

The extras

One of my favourite things about playdough is the extras you can add to enhance your child's play.

You can start with a small selection of tools to hand whenever the playdough comes out:

* Plain and textured rolling pins * Chunky wooden stamps * Small blunt knives * Wooden sculpting tools


Adding toys to playdough is a great way for your child to see them in a different light. Just make sure they don't have any parts where playdough can get stuck or jammed as that can be pain to clean.

Think funny faces with Mr Potato Head parts, footprints with animal figures, tyre tracks from cars, any way you can give toys a new lease of life or encourage them to think about different ways to play with materials.

Loose parts

Start building up a loose parts collection and you can dip into it every time the playdough comes out. My top ten are:

  1. Pinecones

  2. Wood chips

  3. Googly eyes

  4. Buttons

  5. Gemstones

  6. Matchsticks

  7. Beads

  8. Nuts and bolts

  9. Lolly sticks

  10. Shells

Gemstones and playdough make brilliant snails
We used googly eyes and buttons to make gingerbread men

Learning with playdough

All play is learning, but if there are specific skills or areas you would like to explore with your child then including some learning resources with your playdough can be a fun way to do it. Hands-on learning is an incredibly effective way to help your child be more engaged. Try adding:

* Wooden letters

* Numbers

* 2D and 3D shapes

* Playdough mats

* Scales

* Alphabet stamps

* Play money

Check out 12 puzzles you can DIY for some ideas involving playdough, and for a list of our favourite learning resources click here.

You can also explore concepts while you're playing, introducing vocabulary such as soft, smooth, roll and squish, as well as mathematical concepts such as longer/shorter, big/small and exploring shapes and colour theory.

Learning sight words with a toy hammer - smashing the playdough when the answer is right
Using a playdough mat to make the layers of the Earth

Avoiding the mess

One thing that puts people off playdough most is the mess. I've spoken to mums who decided it's best left to playgroups. I understand where they're coming from, but it's a shame to be missing out on one of the most versatile toys out there. If you take a few precautions there's no reason why you can't keep your house clean and carpets playdough-free.

Put something underneath

No matter how neat a child is with playdough, there's always the odd piece to leave the table. I put an old cot sheet underneath so that I can pick it up and shake it out after.

Use a tray

If you grab a large tray and pop all your playdough resources inside, it helps contain the mess and gives a nice flat surface to work on. Our gravel tray is used for most of our creative activities.

Leave out the colour

Food colouring can be one of the worst things for staining - if you have light colour furnishings or you're just a bit nervous about staining, try uncoloured playdough to start with - you can always add colour with loose parts.

Wear old clothes

There's the chance that a rogue bit of playdough will make its way onto clothes, especially on a toddler who likes to climb the table like we have at the moment 😂 Playdough usually washes out fine but just in case don't dress them in your favourite clothes!

I hope I've convinced you to take the plunge with playdough or maybe just to mix things up a little, either way, I can't guarantee it won't drive you mad when some of the toys have crusty dough in impossible places or you are picking up bits for the millionth time, but it's so worth all the niggles! I promise you and your child will get so much out of it!

I hope I've convinced you to take the plunge with playdough or maybe just to mix things up a little

Playdough, love it or loathe it? Leave me a comment!

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Hi, I'm Vicki!

I'm an author and mum to three energetic boys who love learning in a playful and creative way! For more playful learning, creative inspiration and crafts, visit us at:



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