Home Connections: Homemade Dough

by Melissa Harding

Phipps Science Education Playdough (4)

While it can be fun to spend a winter afternoon sled-riding and building snow forts, there are some days when it is just too cold to play outside. With its shorter days and colder temperatures, January is a great time to plan some fun, indoor crafts with your child. One craft that we use all the time with our campers is homemade dough. We make both playdough and salt dough with which campers sculpt, craft and play.

Phipps Science Education Playdough (5)

Playdough is our most popular dough and we make it all summer long for our campers. This dough is cooked on the stove. Totally natural and non-toxic, the dough recipe that we use utilizes cream of tartar and oil to create a pliable, soft dough that never dries out. A generous amount of salt preserves it and keeps it from going bad. While your child can eat this dough safely, the high salt content makes it very unappetizing.

To make playdough, you need the following ingredients:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup iodized salt
1 TB salad oil
2 TB cream of tartar
1 cup water
1 packet of Kool-Aid (optional)

Instructions: Mix all ingredients together in a saucepan until combined. Heat gently on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture forms a ball. The dough will change from a milky liquid to a rubbery, congealed blob. Remove dough from the pot and allow to cool until it is only mildly warm to the touch (5-10 minutes). Knead dough until smooth.

Keep in mind that making playdough is more of an art than a science. Once you have made it a few times, you will know just what the dough looks like when it is cooked. Optionally, adding packets of flavored Kool-Aid will enhance your dough and make it more stimulating to the senses. Please keep in mind that just because your playdough smells like candy, it definitely does not taste like candy.

Your homemade playdough will keep for weeks in a sealed plastic bag or container. If kept covered, it should not dry out.


Salt Dough
Salt dough is an excellent option for a dough recipe that does not need to be cooked. A batch of salt dough can be mixed in under five minutes and is a great idea for a low-cost, easy craft project.  Unlike playdough, salt dough does dry out, even if kept in a container. It is not meant to last for more than a few hours of fun. Salt dough can be used to make ornaments and cut-outs, hand print stones, pots, and an assortment of other crafts.

To make salt dough, you need the following ingredients:

1 cup salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup luke warm water

Instructions: In a large bowl mix salt and flour, gradually stirring in water until it forms a dough-like consistency. Form a ball with your dough and knead it for at least 5 minutes with your hands, adding flour as needed to create a smooth texture. The longer you knead your dough, the smoother it will be. Much the same way that playdough is edible but not delicious, salt dough is as salty as its name suggests. This dough is best kept away from pets, as the high salt content may make them sick if they ingest enough.

You can let your salt dough creations air dry, however salt dough can also be dried in the oven. Bake at 200 F until your creation is dry. The amount of time needed to bake your creations depends on size and thickness; thin flat ornaments may only take 45-60 minutes, thicker creations can take 2-3 hours or more. You can increase your oven temperature to 350 F; your dough will dry faster but it may also brown, which won’t matter if you are painting your entire creation (you can also cover your dough in the oven before it turns brown).

There are a few options to color your salt dough: 1. Add powdered tempera paint to your flour, 2. add food coloring or paint to the water before you mix it with the salt/flour, or 3. add natural coloring like instant coffee, cocoa, or curry powder.

Phipps Science Education Playdough (3)

Imaginative play with dough

Both of these different kinds of dough give children plenty of opportunities for imaginative play. Dough can be sculpted into many different shapes; our campers especially love to use cookie cutters to create animal shapes. It can also be put into silicon candy molds and shaped ice-cube trays. It is best to use silicon molds, as they can be folded inside out to remove dough. Campers also enjoy using the dough to sculpt “food” and serve it as cookies, cakes and other tea party or kitchen items.

Decorative items like seeds, glitter and plant material can be added to dough to give these sculptures additional life. For example, seeds make great eyes for a snake or beautiful patterns on a decorate stone or pot. The only limit in the imagination!

Here are a few more examples of fun dough recipes and play ideas:

Snowdough, The Imagination Tree
Moldable Sand, The Imagination Tree
Gold Cloud Dough, The Imagination Tree
The A-Z of Playdough Recipes and Activities, The Imagination Tree
Beaded Salt Dough Ornaments, Mommy-Labs
Gingerbread Salt Dough, Gemma Garner
39 Ways to Play and Learn with Playdough, The Artful Parent

The above images were taken by Phipps Science Education staff.

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