Would you like to hear my top tips for making a beautiful play dough kit?
With my focus here at Invitations to Play gradually moving away from physical products towards consultation services, online courses and digital play and learning guides, I haven't had as much time as I ordinarily would to make play dough collections. This week I have launched the last of my seasonal kits with a Spring Play Dough Collection and I'd love to take the time to share with you how I go about making my collections.
1. Decide on a Theme
Perhaps you might like to put together a seasonal collection like the one featured here? Or maybe your child is interested in dinosaurs, or the night sky, or Peppa Pig or sea creatures? You could make a play dough kit around a colour theme (warm colours, cool colours, monochrome, shades of blue, gold or silver, colour mixing). Your theme could be shape or texture, numbers or letters, herbs or spices. You could make a play dough kit related to a favourite poem or rhyme, story or song. The possibilities really are endless.
For the first year of running Invitations to Play, I designed my monthly play dough collections to coincide with the themes in the Exploring Nature With Children Curriculum. This was because we were loosely following the curriculum at home at the time, so I was keen to make use of them myself with my daughter and mindees. These days, I can never tell when inspiration will hit, but you can't go wrong if you focus on your child's interests.
2. The Play Dough
Deciding on your play dough colours, and how many colours to make (or buy), will be very much dependent on your family values and preferences. One of the reasons that we make our own play dough here at Invitations to Play is because we are both highly sensitive to strong, synthetic scents. Our play dough is made with natural, non-toxic, food grade ingredients, and is unscented. We like to be able to make larger quantities of it, in a wider variety of colours, and are reducing our consumption of single use plastics by making our own.
My preference is to make two different colours of play dough for each of our collections, to enable colour mixing. When I'm considering the colour choices, I like to think about how the colours will mix, and how that might effect the aesthetics when a child is playing and mixing. I do believe that young children need the opportunity to discover for themselves that mixing a wide variety of colours together will inevitably result in a shade of brown, but this can be deeply frustrating for a child who has been presented with a beautiful new play dough kit. Offering more than two colours (unless they are the three primary colours, plus natural) will likely result in brown, so it's something to bear in mind.
Sometimes, offering just the one colour is a more suitable option. For example, I'd likely offer natural play dough for a toddler's first play dough experience. Equally, if I wanted to encourage a focus on a specific skill such as using a rolling pin, cutter or stamper, I'd likely offer just one colour, so the focus is on the skill and not on the mixing.
To colour our play dough here at Invitations to Play, we use and would recommend Rainbow Dust Colour Flo Liquid Food Colouring. These are highly pigmented, so despite the high price tag, they last well. I used just four drops of each colour to make the soft yellow and green shades in the photograph below. You can use the six colours in the affiliate link above to make a wide variety of different colours and shades, or you could opt for the more expensive 14 colour pack.
In terms of scenting the play dough, we've experimented with a couple of natural additions to our play dough mix. We've added dried lavender in the past which was absolutely beautiful. Our Birds Nest Collection comes with a handful of fennel seeds, which adds a subtle scent and interesting texture. We've experimented with various herbs and spices over the years, with mixed success, but offering herbs and spices alongside a ball of natural dough is such a lovely invitation to play in itself.
Just this week we have had our first go at adding a few drops of our favourite essential oils to our dough. This isn't an affordable option for me to offer in my shop, but the dough smelt lovely, so it would definitely be something worth trying at home if you haven't already. Just add a few drops to whichever carrier oil you use to make your dough.
3. Cutters and Stampers
Then, I like to choose some cutters and stampers. Just one or two cutters is plenty, along with one or two items that will make interesting marks in the dough. I source most of my play dough cutters from independent sellers on eBay. If you type in 'stainless steel cookie cutter' along with the name of the shape you are looking for, e.g. rainbow, starfish, tractor, then you are very likely to have something come up in your search. Just be sure to check that your item is shipping from the UK, otherwise you may have a very long wait for it to arrive (and, post Brexit, may have to pay additional taxes to receive your package).
Choosing mark making tools is where you can really get creative. I love this part of the process! Yes, you can get some commercially available textured rollers and stampers, which can be very appealing, but I think that using handmade and pre-loved (thrifted) items is more sustainable, and can present more interesting and unique mark making opportunities. You can make your own stampers by gluing buttons or craft embellishments onto a cork or wooden block. A round tipped knife, a fork, chopsticks, a honey drizzler, napkin rings, textured beads etc. are all open-ended materials that can be used to create a variety of marks in the dough, as well as to serve their original purpose.
4. Loose Parts
And lastly, you will need some loose parts. Buttons, beads, glass gems, cut up drinking straws, pebbles, shells, pine cones, acorns, marbles, sticks, fresh flowers, birthday candles, paper cupcake cases, acrylic gems. The possibilities are endless. Again, I like to buy these things pre-loved (thrifted) at car boot sales and charity shops. Won't it be lovely when we can visit these places safely again?!
A nice clear work surface, with a comfortable place to sit, and you're good to go! You might like to offer a board to work on, and a rolling pin. A few books for inspiration can also be nice. Or, if this all sounds like way too much work, you can click here to see which play dough kits I currently have in stock.
Here are a couple of other related blog posts that might interest you:
This is a post that I wrote back in September 2019, where I share our Homemade Play Dough Recipe, along with all the benefits of playing with play dough and of making your own.
This is a post that I wrote back in February 2019, sharing some of Our Favourite Spring Books. If you prefer to buy your books from an Independent book seller, then I've added these and more to the Spring section of my Bookshop, which you can find here.
Here are a few Spring themed products I currently have for sale in my shop:
My brand new Spring Play Dough Collection:
My Birds Egg Collection (there were only 5 of these left in stock at the time of writing):
You may also be interested in my Spring Play and Learning Guide:
I hope you find this blog post useful and that it inspires you to have a go at making a collection of your own. Tag me @invitationstoplay.uk if you'd like me to share your homemade collection in my Instagram stories.
This blog post contains affiliate links. If you do click through, Bean and I will receive a small amount of commission which will contribute to new books and resources for her home education. You can, however, find all of these resources elsewhere, including other online retailers, second hand selling pages and your local library.