Homemade Play Dough and Silly Putty: Easy Crafts for Busy Parents

The following is by contributor Christen Babb of Nurture Baby.

Are there certain times of the day when you are not able to give your children your undivided attention? I confess to having those times.  For example, times when I’m preparing dinner or nursing my six-month old son, I can’t have both eyes on my three year old.

The thought of dragging out the entire craft drawer to keep her company while I’m preparing dinner (read: disastrous kitchen table at 6 pm) makes me break out into hives, but giving in and turning on the television for a couple hours doesn’t make me feel good either.

So what’s a mom to do?

We’ve put together some easy recipes for homemade play dough and silly putty as a remedy for those “in-between” times.  These handcrafted, squishy globs will foster your toddler’s imagination, inspire creativity,  hold their attention, and here’s the kicker, do so with a minimal mess.

My three year old daughter can sit at the table and safely squish away while I’m preparing a meal for the family. She currently likes to make “pretend waffles for the whole family” as seen in photo above.

Homemade Play Dough

1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup water
2 tablespoons cream of tartar
food coloring (optional)

Mix flour, salt and oil and slowly add the water. Cook mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly until dough becomes stiff. Turn out onto parchment paper and let cool. Knead the dough with your hands until smooth and pliable. Divide into balls of dough and knead in food coloring if desired.

Store in airtight container. Play dough will last for several months.

Homemade Silly Putty

2 parts Elmer’s® glue
1 part liquid starch (recommend Sta-Flo®)
1 quart Ziploc® bag

Pour glue and a few drops of food coloring (optional) into Ziploc® bag. Slowly add liquid starch knead in plastic bag until thoroughly mixed. This could take 10-15 minutes to reach the consistency of silly putty. If mixture seems too thick, add glue; too thin, add more starch.

Divide and store in airtight containers, such as leftover plastic Easter eggs. (These also make a great, inexpensive party favors!)

Here are a few tips to making the most of these low-maintenance crafts:

  • Put play dough and silly putty in an accessible, toddler-friendly location in easy to open containers.
  • Pair play dough container with a rolling pin and kid-friendly cookie cutters.
  • Designate these items just for those “in-between-times” so your child looks forward to using them.

Rest assured, both recipes are non-toxic and technically edible for those curious toddlers with an urge to “taste” everything.  🙂

And if you are feeling adventurous, I have an extra recipe for homemade finger paint.  Mind you, this won’t help you during those “in-between” times, but it can make for a fun, messy weekend project.

Homemade Finger Paint

3 cups water
1 cup cornstarch
food coloring
1 tablespoon glycerin (found in most craft stores)

Bring 2 cups of water to boil in medium saucepan. Dissolve corn starch in remaining 1 cup of water in a separate bowl. Remove boiling water from heat and add cornstarch mixture. Return to heat, stirring constantly until mixture is clear and thick, about 1 minute.  Remove from heat and stir in glycerin.

After mixture is cooled, divide into separate bowls and add food coloring. Finger paint is best used immediately.

How about you? How do you occupy your children during those “in-between” times?

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  1. I love the play dough recipe. We’ve used that in our family since I was little. In fact, I just made a double batch on Monday for the kids — to replace the endless supply of hardened, dried “real” stuff we had.

    I think I’ll try the silly putty soon too. Thanks for sharing!

  2. One of our best purchases ever was a $2 vinyl playmat that we use as a play dough play mat. I keep it in a cupboard in the pantry and it really does help to be able to pull out some homemade play dough and let the kids play on the mat while I’m making dinner.

    Homemade play dough is a regular in our repertoire but I haven’t made silly putty (love the idea of using old Easter eggs to store it!) or homemade finger paint before. Can’t wait to give them a try!

    I LOVE things that take mere minutes to pull together but provide hours of entertainment for the kiddos 🙂 (and messy, but not too messy is a bonus, too!)
    Kara @Simple Kids´s latest post: Homemade Play Dough and Silly Putty- Easy Crafts for Busy Parents

    • Yes, we are big fans of the vinyl placemat as well! We got the one pictured above in the dollar section at Target and it has saved my kitchen table many-a-times!! 🙂

      Thanks, Kara!

  3. Last year my son had an afterschool class in which he made all of these. I really think the making of the dough, floam, putty, etc. was the more fun than the stuff! 🙂
    Paula@Simply Sandwich´s latest post: More Multi-Meal Cooking

  4. I love the Silly Putty idea now that my boys are a little older. We’ll have to add this to our weekend plans.

  5. YES! Making some today! Thanks, Christen!
    Megan@SortaCrunchy´s latest post: retreat

  6. I’d love to try this out for my 2 year old. Where do I get cream of tarter?

  7. Quick question about the homemade play dough…When do you add the Cream of Tartar? While it’s cooking or mix with the flour?
    Emily @ Random Recycling´s latest post: Hooray for Harvest for Students Week

  8. Hi Emily –

    Just mix all the ingredients together (including the Cream or Tartar) before cooking. I see now on my recipe that I forgot to mention when to add the Cream of Tartar in the directions. Thank you for pointing this out!

  9. We love homemade playdough here too! I usually do a no-cook one like hand lotion playdough just to simplify it, but the cream of tartar one is a standard here too.

    We also have the vinyl placemats, but we have an assortment of educational ones like the planets, money, US map, presidents and such. The kids accidentally learn a bit each time they play and they like rotating the subjects. 🙂
    Alicia´s latest post: Seven steps to ending a meltdown

  10. I personally really like to add some coloured rice to the dough! It gets really beautiful colours and texture!
    I like Homemade Playdough´s latest post: Playdough Recipe

  11. I want to make silly putty with my grandsons, but Sta Flo is not available here (Hawaii). Has anyone tried making the putty using diy liquid starch? If so, what recipe did you use? Thanks

  12. looks fun


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