DIY: Make play dough

Homemade Jell-o play dough
Homemade Jell-o play dough Creative Commons via Flickr Photo Sharing (

One of my earliest crafting memories is “helping” my mom make play dough. The day she acquired the secret recipe from our next door neighbor (written on a recipe index card, no less), I remember hounding her to make the salty stuff the moment we left the neighbors house, walked across the yard and in through our front door. That recipe involved Cream of Tartar and cooking the beloved goo on the stove, which then involved cooling time and my impatience. The end result was a green-tinted (my then-favorite color), salty-tasting (of course I ate it) dough that lasted a few weeks. It was my favorite go-to toy between ages two and four. Then again between 5 and 7, and again in my early 20s, when my boys were toddlers. And pretty much anytime it’s nearby. The fact is, I still love playing with the squishy stuff.

Why do we love it so much?

Whether rolling the stuff into balls or making the “world’s longest” snake, there is extreme satisfaction in the way play dough feels, and how it inspires creativity. For children, the wide open nature of taking a substance and shaping it into everyday objects or situations helps young brains develop. As adults, the act of squeezing alone reduces muscle tension and provides stress relief (hence the whole stress-ball craze). Truly, a perfect toy at any age.

I recently had the desire to make the squishy stuff again, and looked online for recipes. What follows are two variations: One that involves Jell-O and your stove top; another that can be done with a toddler’s helping hands.

Be sure to store both in an airtight container for future play; no refrigeration necessary.

Jell-O play dough

▪ 1 cup flour (white)

▪ 1/2 cup salt

▪ 2 tablespoons cream of tartar

▪ 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

▪ 1 cup warm water

▪ 1 package (3 ounce size) gelatin powder (any flavor)

Combine dry ingredients in saucepan. Add water and oil. Stir over medium heat until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pot. Be careful not to overheat it— the dough can burn.

Remove from heat, continuing to mix, then — when cooled enough — knead the dough. Once cooled, be sure to continue kneading for awhile to assure consistency. No need to add color to this recipe; the Jell-o company has already done that for you.

No-cook play dough recipe

▪ 1 cups flour

▪ 1/2 cup salt

▪ 1/2 cup water

▪ 1/2 tablespoon oil

▪ food coloring (any color)

▪ newspaper to cover the surface you’re working on

In a medium bowl, combine the flour and salt. Next, add the water, oil and food coloring. Mix until well combined, eventually kneading the dough on a newspaper surface. (Toddlers are perfect helpers for this!) Too sticky? Add more flour as needed.