Homemade Play Dough and Bubbles Recipes, Tips, Techniques

by Louise Wulf

One of the most versatile, open-ended molding mediums is play dough. This recipe is easy to make, long-lasting, pleasant to use and easy to clean up.

Homemade Play Dough
Double for a large batch

1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
1 cup water
1 T vegetable oil
3 T cream of tartar
Food Coloring- see note.

Options for Adding Color: For pastels, add liquid food coloring (before cooking) For vivid colors, use powdered tempera paint or frosting paste (kneaded into dough after cooking). For fun, nice smell and vivid color, knead in a small package of Kool-Aid (after cooking). Start with a small amount of color and mix, adding more until you have the shade you want. *See below for more info and sources.

Mix all ingredients together in a pot and cook over medium heat while stirring constantly (I use a wooden spoon) until it makes a ball. This happens faster than you'd think. It only takes 4 to 5 minutes for a double batch.

Turn the ball out onto the counter and knead it (gingerly at first; it's warm) for a minute or two. Let it cool slightly before you let the kids play with it.

Store in airtight container in refrigerator to make it last several weeks.


Don't use playdough on a wet surface or handle with wet hands. It'll get messy.

If some lands on the floor or carpet, just let it dry and then vacuum it up. It will come up with no problem. Do not try to clean it up with water!

Notes on Coloring Agents:

Food coloring (a liquid) can be found in supermarket baking sections.

Powdered tempera paint is available in art and school supply stores. It's a good investment because it's useful for painting, making prints, painting the bathtub enclosure or sliding glass door and dozens of craft projects. Buy it in the primary colors (red, blue, green) and let the kids mix their own colors. Mix the powder with water for painting with a brush, printing, stamping, etc. or mix with liquid starch. It's more expensive, but makes the powder easy to mix and clean up and gives it a nice glossy look. It makes a passable substitute for fingerpaint on freezer paper or the above surfaces.

Frosting paste, made by companies like Wilton, is available in tubes and small pots in almost any craft or party supply store. It's fairly expensive, but like the tempera, goes a very long way. (Each batch takes only a dab.) Commercial baking brands can be found in wholesale supplies. Check your yellow pages under commercial baking supplies and call to see if they sell to the public.


Playdough is a basic tactile experience children of all ages enjoy. Don't rush into adding tools and props. Allow lots of time just to see what playdough will do. Let them pat, roll snakes and balls, pound, knead, etc. Rotate assessories and vary activities.

Watch garage sales for cookie cutters, plastic "disposable" knives, doll-size cookie sheets and baking pans, buttons for making gingerbread persons and snowmen, and commercial playdough assessories like the dough press and tools. Brio rolling pins are a wonderful investment. They're about $3.50 and can be found in independent toy stores. They work! They're heavy enough to allow even a two- year old to successfully roll out dough and are extremely well-made and long-lasting. (My grandchildren are using the same rolling pins my children used.)


"Bake" (bread, cookies, dinner). Add Q-tips for candles to practice blowing out birthday candles and singing "Happy Birthday." Three and four year olds love this and can happily do it over and over. Make long snakes. Add eyes, rattles, etc. When the thrill of that is gone, coil snakes up into baskets. Play pattycake. Vary the colors you use. Leave some batches white.

Homemade Super Bubbles

In a quart-size container mix:

1 cup Joy or Dawn Dishwashing Liquid (other brands don't make good bubbles.)
1 - 3 T Glycerine (a clear liquid available in any pharmacy department, often in the first aid section. It's a small, brown, generic-looking bottle. It's inexpensive and makes the bubbles stronger.)

Pour the detergent into quart container, add water (gently so it doesn't foam up) to fill the quart container. Add 1 - 3 tsp. glycerine.

Pour into a container suitable for the age of the child(ren) and the type of "wand" you intend to use. Plastic mugs are good for the type of "blowers" found in store-bought bubble solution.

Jellyroll pans, upside down Frisbees, and shallow, rectangular plastic storage container are great for older children to make large bubbles and to use with berry baskets for very young children.

Several weeks before I expect young visitors, I mix up a big batch, put it in a gallon milk jug and let it sit. The bubbles seem to hold together better when the mixture is "aged". I try to have a supply "curing" while the kids are enjoying the current batch.

For a big batch:

1 gallon water
16 oz. bottle of Joy
1 oz. bottle of glycerine


Be watchful at garage sales, beginning and end of season sales and in "Dollar" stores. Look for high quality commercial bubble- making devices such as large hoops with a handle and solid hoop- shaped devices with small holes cut out for making dozens of bubbles at one time (The last one looks like a flat skillet covered with evenly-spaced dollar pancake-sized holes). These can be waved about with great success by the very smallest children; no problems with blowing!

The best set I've ever seen is now (June, 1997) offered in the Troll Learn and Play catalog (1-800-247-6106), on sale for $11.95. It's made by Battat (1-800-8-BATTAT) and is also available in toy stores. It makes it possible for a crowd to make bubbles without conflict and is very well made. The most valuable parts of the brightly colored set are the two solution-holding containers: nesting "Frisbees," which can be used separately for a crowd and then used as a storage container by covering the smaller container with the larger one; two 10" large-bubble wands and a 10" "holey skillet" (as described above) to make a rainbow of small bubbles. The wonderful thing about this one is that a small child can wave it back and forth and make bubbles for several passes before it has to be dipped back in the bubble solution. My middle granddaughter used it at 18 months and had a terrific time. (I don't believe her mom used soap at bathtime all summer long. Hilde came pre-soaped!)

This set (00594) also comes with 4 oz. of bubble solution, 2 multiple "spinning" bubble blowers (which look like a very short trumpet with a mute) and 4 shaped wands. These items are only of use to school age kids. The set is a good investment because it suits the needs and capabilities of a wide age range, so you can use it for years, then save it for grandkids. Even adults drift over to test it out. I think it's worth the price just to get the large wands and the solution containers.

Some accessories are only appropriate for school-age children. If you can avoid it, skip the wands shaped like hearts and animals, etc., (these often don't work well and mislead younger children into thinking the bubble will be the shape of the wand. Not true. Bubbles are round, no matter the wand shape.) pipes (too easy to swallow and/or gag on the bubble solution; a horrible experience.) and such gimmicky things as bubble sprinklers, guns and battery operated devices. What fun is it to just watch when you can make them yourself?

Save and refill commercial bubble solution bottles.

Recycle berry baskets (wonderful for the smallest children.) Multiple bubbles can be made by waving the entire basket through the air. It can also be thrust up and down in the solution to make suds, an activity that fascinates young kids.)

Bend a coat hanger into a large circle, leaving the hook for a handle. This is NOT appropriate for preschoolers.

To challenge older children, form a square with 2 straws and some string. Use a small safety pin or a pipe cleaner "needle" to feed the string through the straws. Slide the straws along the string to form the top and bottom of the square, leaving string to make the sides. Use the straws as handles and dip the device into the solution. Gently lift it out and gently snap the straws apart while either walking backward or pulling your arms back towards your body, to release the bubble. Bring the straws together again to close the bubble up and allow it to drift away. This takes practice, but is an elegantly simple, hands-on technique that is very satisfying.

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