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Putting Used Playdough To Good Use!

Playdough is definitely a finite material.  Even store-bought dough doesn’t last forever.  And, while I love to make playdough for my class and my boys at home (here is a link to my favorite playdough recipe), it very quickly becomes dried out and over-used.  So, here are a few ways to send that old playdough out with a bang:

1.  Explore colors.  If you have colored playdough, consider mixing the colors to make new colors.  This is especially interesting with primary color playdough (red, blue, yellow).  Granted, our playdough is typically mottled from the mixtures of color anyway, but if you have some that is “wearing out” yet still in good color, try mixing it and doing a little lesson on coloration.

2.  Make a gift!  My homemade playdough works especially well for this.  When our playdough is reaching the end of its usefulness, we like to create sculptures to give to others.  My older son has made pencil holders for desks, statues of beloved pets, and a lovely collection of homemade (and quite heavy) flowers.  Letting them sit out to dry for several days is a great way to get them to “set”; placing them in a low-heat oven can speed up that process as well.

3.  Turn it into a science exploration lesson.  My kids at preschool LOVE to take old playdough and make the ultimate sculpture – a volcano, complete with a “crater” in the top.  Once our playdough volcano is hardened, we put baking soda down in the crater and then pour vinegar into the hole to make the “lava”.  Tint the vinegar with red washable watercolor to make it really realistic!

4.  Of course, kids aren’t the only ones who can find a good way to recycle old playdough.  Use old playdough in the bottom of pots to arrange silk and live florals. 

5.  If for nothing else, use old playdough to help strengthen your child’s hand muscles and work on fine motor skills.  Have them roll the old playdough into balls between his or her thumb and forefinger.  And, use blunt-ended scissors for playdough cutting.  Kids LOVE to cut playdough into itty-bitty pieces, and it is excellent exercise for the hand muscles!

The Joy Of Playdough

Playdough – mention the word and most parents and caregivers acknowledge the word with a slight cringe or eye-roll.  We all know what “playdough” means – matted red goo in the carpet, purple stuck in the crevaces of the soles of shoes, an unexpected snack as kids sneak a bit into their mouths, and dried little pills of it everywhere for days to come.  However, playdough is an important tool in child development.  So, before you hide or throw out that malleable substance, take a look at what a wonderful product it really is.

Playdough is an excellent tool with young children for the development of fine motor skills which is crucial for activities such as writing and cutting.  Just the basic kneading of the dough strengthens finger and hand muscles, which is important when building tone for those fine motor skills later on.  A step beyond this is clay, which is a less malleable substance and really gives those muscles a workout!

Children also develop a keener coordination between their eyes and hands while using playdough.  Estimation skills are used when determining how much playdough is needed for a specific task; using cookie cutters and rolling pins aids in planning and creating.  Rolling a “snake” (my two year old’s favorite task) helps kids understand cause and effect and motion as well.

Let’s not forget the creative part of open-ended playdough play!  The only thing kids CAN’T create with playdough are those things they haven’t thought of yet.  How about a purple dinosaur?  Or a green kitty?  Maybe a blue and orange sea monster or a space ship with six engines?  Or, perhaps your child wants to make a whole city?  A race car that can fly and float?  Why not? 

And, if you are really into playdough, making your own is terrific for basic math, language and science skills.  It is quite simple to make.  Here’s a terrific and easy recipe to get you started.  There are plenty of them out there.  Find one that works for you and use it often.  And remember all the good you are doing for your child.  It will make the time you spend cleaning playdough off of shoes more worthwhile!


In a saucepan, combine:
4 cups water
4 cups flour
1 cup salt
1/2 T cream of tartar (can also subsitute with 1/4 T baking powder and 1/4 T baking soda)
4 tablespoons oil

Mix until no longer sticky over low/medium heat.  Turn out on plate or board to cool and store in ziplock bag.  Food coloring may be added for variation, and Kool Aid powder also works well for coloring (and smells great, too!).

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