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Simple gifts: Variations on a Play-Doh theme

Submitted by on Sunday, 30 November 2008 One Comment

WARNING: Play-Doh has become an increasingly controversial toy in recent years. Three current or former sisters-in-law have banned it from their homes. So please consult parents before giving this gift. If they’ve done anything to tick you off in the past year, go ahead and give it anyway.

I have not bought Play-Doh since our experiment last Christmas. Not when it’s so fast, easy and economical to make. And not when it’s superior in most ways to the commercial variety.

It took maybe 20 minutes to make the equivalent of two cans of Play-Doh, and that includes the time waiting for water to boil.

Four hours later, a test lump still was soft and pliable. It didn’tstink. It passed every test the guys put it through: worms, balls, cookies, spaghetti. I tried stomping it into my kitchen linoleum, and it didn’t stick. Nor did it flake off in annoying shards when the guys were playing with it.

I think I’m in love.

There are several variations with this gift. You could make a gift basket that includes the dry ingredients and the gear, if the recipient’s family is adventurous. You could make the dough and provide the gear if not.

Or you could buy Play-Doh but still create a gift basket with common household items. Chances are, the kids would enjoy your gift basket more than they would an official Play-Doh set anyway, and you could provide more gear for less money. Out of the two Play-Doh sets I’ve bought the guys, they’re really interested in only a few items anyway, chiefly the rolling pin. They’d much rather use my cookie cutters than anything else that came with the kit.


  • 1 c. flour
  • 1 c. boiling water
  • 2 tbl. cream of tartar
  • 1/2 c. salt
  • 1 tbsp. oil
  • Food coloring

There will be a point shortly after you add the water where you will panic and think you need more flour because you don’t see how this soupy mess will ever turn doughy. Don’t panic! These ratios work. Just keep stirring and you’ll see it start to form. You’ll have to knead it after a bit, but it’s easy to work with. And it’s a great hand-warmer on a cold night.

I used gel icing colors in mine, because I don’t have anything else in the house. I’m sure standard liquid colors will work just as well, though the colors probably won’t be as intense. You can get a wider variety of colors more easily with gels, but, then, there’s something to be said for using just primary colors and making the kids learn how to mix them.



Five pounds of flour: Less than $3. It’s enough to make 18 batches or 36 Play-Doh jars. A set of six cans of Play-Doh sells for around $7.

Oil, water, salt: negligible

Cream of tartar: No idea. Mine was purchased at a store I haven’t lived near in 11 years. You don’t use much of it when egg allergies keep you from making meringue.

Icing colors: 12 for $14 or eight for $10. Available at any place that carries cake decorating supplies. Or use the standard grocery store liquid.


Plastic pizza cutter – $4

Rolling pin: $1.25 for kiddy-sized. You could just buy a full-size pin locally. I have no idea what one costs. I have an “heirloom” rolling pin, so I’ve never shopped for a new model.

Plastic scissors: 59 cents

Cookie cutters: 101 variety pack, $15; 50 animals, $9; variety of other shapes, $3 per set. Inexpensive holiday sets also are easy to find this time of year.

Other plastic gear – colanders, pot strainers, plastic knives: Check any dollar store or bargain outlet.

Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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One Comment »

  • MtnMom said:

    Soooo, why has PLay Dough become controversial? It was one of few toys that every child could enjoy at the same time when I was raising younger ones. It helped develope my daughters’ skills of creating amazing ornaments, knick knacks and jewelry from Sculpy. Controversial, huh? Someone must be bored!