The Power of Play Dough

Homemade Play Dough

Young children love to play with play dough, and play dough play is a great way to support their learning. It benefits children socially, creatively, and physically while building language and literacy, science, and math skills — all at the same time! Homemade or out of the can, this preschool staple can provide hours of fun and learning at home. All you need are a clear surface, a few kitchen utensils, and lots of time to play.

At home or at school, play dough play supports development and learning in many areas. When children use play dough, they explore ideas and try different approaches until they find one that works. They compare and contrast objects (“Mine’s a fat pancake and yours is skinny”), actions (“No, don’t cut it! This is how you scrape it”), and experiences (“We’re not making a snake, we’re making a road”). In experimenting with play dough, children use initiative and show curiosity, and they analyze and solve problems.

While messing around with play dough, children use the small muscles in their fingers and hands. They use hands, fingers, and tools to pound, push, poke, shape, flatten, roll, cut, and scrape. Through these manipulations, children develop eye-hand coordination, the ability to match hand movement with eye movement, and gain strength and improve dexterity in their hands and fingers — critical areas of physical development for writing, drawing, and other purposes.

Play dough is a powerful learning tool for many reasons. And when you play at home with children and play dough, you’ll discover the most important reason of all: it’s just plain fun for everybody.

Basic Homemade Play Dough
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup salt
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 cup water or cooled tea (for flavors — see below)
1 1/2 tablespoons oil (vegetable or canola)
Food coloring, as desired

1. Put salt, water, and oil in a saucepan and cook over low heat. When the salt is dissolved stir in the flour and cream of tartar.

2. Keep stirring and heating over low heat until it thickens and pulls away from the pan and forms a ball (about five minutes).

3. Turn out onto the counter or a mat, scraping pan clean with a spatula. Knead the warm dough a couple times, and place in a loosely-covered container to cool. Store in a sealed container or ziplock bag when not in use.

Coffee Play Dough
1 cup used coffee grounds dried
1/2 cup cold coffee
1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt


Stir cold coffee and salt. Then, add the coffee grounds and flour until well mixed. Knead the dough.

Recipes from Messy Art Class at Montclair YMCA


  1. I loved play dough as a child and I've found that all the children in my care have loved it just as much as me. My nephews enjoy play dough too!! And the best part about homemade play dough is that the children can help make it, which they love just as much as playing with it.


  1. […] The best nannies have projects and back up projects to do with the children each day so that the kids never get bored. This is one of the quickest boredom busters and easiest play dough recipes I have ever made. I love it because already had the ingredients in the kitchen. Click here to see how to make baking soda and cornstarch play dough. Click here to make pumpkin pie play dough. See how to make the best basic play dough and coffee play dough by clicking here. […]

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