Creating 3-D Magic in the Kitchen

Cute little girl having fun with modeling clay at a daycare. Creative kid molding at home.

Many benefits come with introducing your children to the magic of making homemade play dough, including creating 3-D sculptures. It’s an easy recipe, with ingredients you can find in most cupboards, and gives you a nice way to spend time with your kiddos after a busy workweek. It’s also a valuable learning experience that enhances your children’s fine motor skills, ignites creativity and teaches them a few cooking tips in the process. Once the dough is ready, you may also find it oddly soothing to squish an obedient lump of clay into whatever shape you choose.

Setting Up Your Play Dough Studio

Gather the materials you’ll need for the dough:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup salt
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 cups cold water
  • Food coloring
  • Wooden board or clean countertop for kneading the dough.

While this dough isn’t recommended for snacking, it’s safely edible if your youngster decides to try a bite.

Also consider:

  • Plastic bags or airtight containers for storing the dough
  • Throwaway plastic tablecloth to protect your table surface and make cleanup quick
  • Various “tools” for decorating the sculptures, such as forks, spoons, birthday candles or old buttons.

Preparing the Dough

Mix flour, salt, vegetable oil, cream of tartar and water in a medium saucepan.

Cook uncovered over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly until the dough is the consistency of thickened mashed potatoes.

Knead the dough lightly to form it into a “loaf,” and then divide it into four equal portions.

Make a shallow well in each portion of the dough to hold food coloring. Add 6 to 8 drops of food coloring to each portion and knead the color into the dough, distributing it evenly. You may want to wear gloves for the initial “knead” to protect your hands from the food coloring. After it’s been worked lightly into the dough, it won’t transfer its color.

Hints for Getting Your Children Enthused

Before you begin cooking, take the kids on an outdoor adventure to gather small sticks, pebbles or leaves to decorate their creations.

Otherwise, be creative about decorating tools. Consider using an old garlic press to make hair. Make it one you don’t plan to use again for cooking. Cookie cutters are fabulous for kick-starting imagination. Strings, straws and shoelaces make lovely designs in homemade play dough.

Consider measuring the ingredients in advance so younger children can dump them in the saucepan before the cooking starts. Or use the time to give your older kids a cooking lesson by letting them measure the ingredients. Your expertise is required for stirring the dough in the pot because it gets very stiff, and kids and stovetops don’t mix too well.

Use the basic four food colors to create other shades. Mix red with blue, for instance, to create purple. Add blue to green to vary the shade, or combine blue with yellow for a bright, apple version of green.

It may be tempting to clean up the kitchen as your children work on their masterpieces, but avoid that urge and use the time to “sculpt” and chat right along with them. This gives them what they crave most, time with you.


Cleanup is a breeze if you’ve spread a throwaway plastic tablecloth on the play surface. Once you’ve gathered the tools and the sculptures your kids want to preserve, just wad up the cloth and toss it.

Wash the tools you’re keeping for the next play session in warm, soapy water. The dough keeps for months when stored in plastic bags or airtight containers.