We finally got around to making our own play-dough from scratch a few days ago. Outside it was cold and crappy and Ben looked liked he was itching to get kinetic and connected with something (anything!) so I unearthed a recipe for homemade play dough that's been floating around in the very messy baking drawer. I brought the canister of flour to the table and grabbed the salt and Ben said, "Are we makin' pizza Mom?" And I said, "No silly, we are going to make play dough!" And he looked a little befuddled. "Play dough?" he asked. "Yep. Play dough," I answered. "But I want to make pizza!" he said. Ben's been a bit of a wild child/Tasmanian Devil the last few weeks but it is these kinds of moments that remind me how great he is and how he is always taking it all in. (We made pizza dough at least three times in the last few weeks so it was fresh in his memory and I adore that he makes the connection between flour and pizza dough.)
I feel as though I am always saying this about the new things I try and do, but dang, I sure wish I would have tried this sooner because it is so easy and so tactfully awesome for toddlers and the recipe is forgiving as all get out.
I really let Ben do most of the scooping of the flour and showed him how to spoon in and scrape off when measuring flour in cups. (That's a deceptively simple but important technique in baking that I wished someone would have taught me before I started baking in earnest.)
The ingredient that really makes it "magic" or just kid-happy is the addition of instant and totally artificial Kool-aid mix.
This gives it a shockingly sweet, well, Kool-aidy or even Jell-O-esque smell, We used grape flavored powdered Kool-aid. It smelled like grape bubble-gum to me. Ben simply said, "Mmmmmmm delicious, can I eat it?" (My answer: No.) It gave it only a whisp of purple color, actually it just made the dough kind of lilac-grey. I didn't have any food coloring on hand and frankly, it didn't matter.
We mixed the dough and then "turned it out" onto the table. It was pretty sticky and certainly didn't have the consistency of the different play doughs we've been messing with lately. So we kept adding flour and kneading it in. This, to me, was the coolest part. Ben said, "But it is like we're making pizza, mom!" And he was totally right about that. Watching an uber-physical three year-old knead dough happily and effectively is a pretty cool thing. (Note to self: let Ben knead the dough next time we make pizza dough! And sign us both up for a bread baking class!)
We finally got it to the consistency that was like that of play dough and Ben played with it, uninterrupted for almost an hour. At some point he called out for some "guys" to play with the dough, so I grabbed some animals and a farmer from the farm guys bin.
Ben kept chattering away to himself, amusing himself with his giant pile of play dough (the recipe we used yielded almost 2 pounds of dough!) and so I jumped on the computer, started checking my email, did a little internet surfing . . . okay, so I started tuning him out just a little, I mean he was playing so incredibly well there on his own, burying different animals and objects into the dough and he was just 5 feet away from me . . . what possibly could go wrong?
Not much really, except when I heard him babbling "Oh, okay now you guys, blah, blah, blah, look out here, here comes the cell phone, look out below, blah blah blah hee hee . . . " and I kept typing and staring at the screen and then the delayed response kicked in. I looked to the left of my elbow where my cell phone had been sitting. No more cell phone. Ben, still happily smooshing the play dough.
Then the lightning bolt cracked over my very sluggish brain: yo, lady, your Nokia is deeply embedded in that grape-smelling dough over there! I jumped up and um, I screamed like the mom screams in Calvin and Hobbes, you know how she always screams in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS and her screaming mouth makes up two-thirds of her face? Yep. I screamed, "BEN YOU CAN"T PUT MY PHONE IN THE PLAY DOUGH, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? GET IT OUT OF THERE NOW!" And I pounced on the purple-ish play dough and ripped my phone out but . . . I also managed to make Ben cry almost instantly. Big, fat and very confused crocodile tears. While he shouldn't be burying my electronics in anything, there was no reason to come down so hard (and so loud) on him. And besides, after I took a breath and looked at my phone, which was smudged with bits of purple dough and covered with an oily sheen and smelled like Kool-aid, I realized it was quite funny. Funny in that good old-fashioned "Kids do the darndest things" kind of way. So I gave Ben a hug, and told him I was sorry for shouting at him (but to never bury my phone in anything as that will break it) and he wiped his tears and you know, he was back at the play dough as if nothing ever happened. I took another breath and reminded myself that a sense of humor (one that you actually allow to be there, in the moment when things look awful or wrong or just crappy) is one of the most valuable things. Especially when you are the mother of a vibrant and curious three year-old. A little lesson from a very large pile of dough. Not bad for a dead of winter day.
We have played with the play dough every night for the last five nights. Ben has used rolling pins with it and cut it with tools and scraped markings into it and yes, he has continued to bury things in it. Which means it rocks and I wonder if I will ever have to buy any commercial play dough ever again.
I thought you might like the recipe. If you don't need or want copious amounts of play dough, halve it. We store it in large cottage cheese and yogurt containers. Next time I am going to skip the Kool-aid and try using an essential oil like Sweet Orange or Lemon instead. Or I might make some Aussie dough with Eucalyptus Oil, that would be great to play with if you have a cold. I am kidding. Sort of. Maybe not.
Homemade Play Dough
4 cups flour ***we easily added another cup of flour to this, so have more on hand
3/4 cup salt
1 package of powdered drink mix like Kool-aid
2 cups water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
In a large bowl, mix the salt and flour together. In a separate bowl, mix oil, water and drink mix. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir with a wooden spoon. If dough is sticky, knead in enough flour to make it feel like pliable dough. Store in an airtight container. Have fun! (And hide the cell phone.)