The Softest, Simplest No-Cook Playdough

It is a rainy week, which means our outside adventuring plans for the next few days have been canceled. Usually this means the kids and I do lots of baking, but it’s the beginning of bathing suit season and I am so not ready. I still wanted to have us all come together around the dining room table to work on something to beat the rainy day blues, so I decided it was a good time for a fresh batch of my favorite DIY playdough.

I am not afraid of letting my kids mix colors or create something and leave it out to dry up and eventually get tossed. I am also known for encouraging them to use natural materials like sticks and rocks in their creations, so once the creating is over, that portion of dough gets tossed. Making our own playdough is so incredibly cheap in comparison to store-bought that it allows me to not fret about “wasted” dough in the name of creativity! Also, it is completely edible, so when your child makes a plate of green beans that look so real that your other child actually takes a bite while playing, you don’t have to freak out. He will spit it out, though. It tastes super salty, but at least you know all of the ingredients that went in his mouth.

Here’s my go-to recipe. This makes a great amount. I usually divide it into 6-8 parts and color them differently. Most of these items I pick up at the grocery store, the cheapest store-brand. But the food coloring and the cream of tartar I have found the best prices on Amazon. I use food coloring for lots of baking and crafts so I’ve linked to a large set with lots of colors.

As for essential oils, I get mine from Gina, a sweet homeschool mama, at http://fitoilsmomma.com/. I’ve also offered Amazon links if that’s your preference. This time, I used Wild Orange and Peppermint oil for the energizing elements on a dreary day, but I have also used Lavender in other batches for more of a calming experience.

The Softest, Simplest No-Cook Playdough

Adapted from Momspotted.com

Ingredients:

  • 4 Cups of Flour

  • 1 Cup of Salt

  • 1/4 Cup of Vegetable Oil

  • 1/4 Cup of Cream of Tartar

  • 3 Cups Boiling Water

  • Food Coloring

  • 20-30 drops of essential oils (optional)

Instructions:

1. Combine flour, salt, cream of tartar & oil in a large bowl. I usually have my water boiling while I do this step.

2. Add in boiling water and stir. I start with a wooden spoon, but I change over to using my hands once it cools a little to knead it all together.

3. Add in the essential oil and knead again.

4. Flatten out the ball as evenly as possible and cut it with a butter knife into 6-8 parts, depending on how many colors you would like to make.

5. Place each section in a zipper bag with drops of food coloring and zip shut, pressing the air out of the bag. Knead the color into the dough. I usually take it out of the bag once it is kneaded in a little bit and continue to knead with my hands. Starting it off in the bag helps eliminate food coloring stains on your hands. Another option is to use the paddle attachment on a kitchen mixer.

This is a great activity to get your little ones involved in. There is much to be learned in measuring, stirring, kneading, color mixing, and counting drops!

Playdough is a great sensory activity and so much open-ended play comes from smooshing, rolling, imagining, and creating. This ALEX Toys kit is one of our go-to playdough tools. They’re pricier than the plastic pieces, but wooden toys are always more durable and let’s be honest, more aesthetically pleasing when they’re sprawled all over your kitchen table.

Letter Recognition & Formation Strategies

In our homeschool preschool rhythm, my children and I spend two weeks learning each letter of the alphabet. As we move through the alphabet, we also review previously learned letters. Each week, we repeat these 8 solid strategies to expose new letters and practice their formation. I find that familiarity with the activities allows my children to focus on learning the letters, rather than how to master a new activity. At this point in their schooling, my goal is simply to expose them to the letters and their sounds and give them the invitation to practice forming them.

We usually do 2-3 of these activities each day that we have structured school time. For us, that is typically four days a week. I expose them to both the uppercase and the lowercase letters the first week, but when it comes to formation activities we do uppercase the first week and add in lowercase the second week.

1. Sandpaper Letter Tracing – I show them these cards for each letter we are learning, and then I model how to form the letter using my index finger and then an unsharpened pencil. My children then repeat what I just demonstrated.

2. Sensory Writing Tray – I often use salt for this, but sometimes I use similar items instead to go with the theme we are learning. I recently did birdseed when we studied birds and sugar mixed with sprinkles when we were reading books about cupcakes. First, I pour the sensory item onto a cookie sheet and provide a half sheet of cardstock with the letter printed on it for them to look at as they play. I model how to form the letters with my index finger on the tray. After writing a letter they lightly shake the tray to have a “clean slate” to write again. Oftentimes they will use the cardstock letter and bury it and then uncover it with their fingers.

3. White Erase Tracing – These dry erase pockets are one of my favorite supplies we have! I print an outline of the letter and slip it into the pocket. I model to the children how to form the letter using a dry erase marker and then give them a chance to try. Sometimes, my four year old does it correctly and sometimes they both just color the letter in with markers. Either way, they are watching me write it and say it and getting exposure to it. The curriculum I use comes with letter outlines, but here are some I found if you are not using the same curriculum.

4. Clay Forming – Using the same dry erase pockets with letter outline inserts and clay or playdough, I encourage my children to pinch pieces off and roll it into long strips. They then form the letter on top of the pocket. Sometimes I offer small items for them to press into the clay or playdough that start with the letter we are learning. We did coins for C. They pressed them in all around the clay letter and then pick them out over and over again.

5. Stamp It, Poke It, Write It – I get these printables from Simply Learning. She offers them for free with each letter unit. We have these capital letter stamps and these lowercase ones. My kids love stamping the correlating letters for the Stamp It section. Then, they use large push pins to poke the small circles in the Poke It section. I place the printable on a piece of foam board and tape down the corners of the paper for this. We have been using the same piece of foam for over a year. They aren’t ready for the Write It! Section yet, so I just point out what the word says.

6. 3-Part Cards – Nomenclature cards, or 3-Part Cards, are simply images with corresponding labels. They really help my children learn the letter sounds and have been one of the major factors in my son beginning to read. I wrote a blog post about how we use them in our schooling here. I currently make these cards to correlate with the letters we are working on. You can download these printable 3-Part Cards here.

7. Handwriting Without Tears Letter Blocks – I discovered these materials when I was teaching a special needs child how to form letters. He went from absolutely hating writing to writing full stories in just a few months. They are certainly an investment, but I knew I would use them for years with multiple children. I have seen how incredibly they work, so it is worth it to me. We currently use the Capital Letter Wooden Blocks and the Capital Letter Cards. I lay the wood pieces out and give my children the cards. Then I ask them to choose which pieces they think they need and they build the letter on top of the card. Then we flip the card over and work through it together.

8. Chalkboard Write and Wipe – This is also a Handwriting Without Tears method that I learned while teaching. I model the entire process, then they repeat. First, I write the letter on a small slate. Then I dip a little square sponge into water and squeeze the excess water out. Finally, I erase the letter in the same way that it is written. My kids love it, the repetition is gold, and the pincer grasp gets a lot of work.

What letter formation activities do you use at home? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments!

How-to Use 3-Part Cards

I first discovered 3-Part Cards when researching the Montessori method of schooling. The official name for these cards are “Nomenclature Cards”, coming from the Latin word nomenclatura, which means “assigning of names”. They are basically an image with a corresponding label. They come in a whole form and in a split form. The whole cards include the word and image together on one card. The split cards separate the word from the image. This provides endless opportunities for matching and word recognition. 3-Part Cards can be used in every subject area, and the main purpose is for vocabulary building and reading.

We first began using 3-Part Cards when I discovered Kaitlyn from Simply Learning. She provides them with her free literature units, which is what we were using before The Peaceful Preschool. I saw my 3-year-old begin to put meaning to words, and I was amazed at how quickly he caught on to them. I truly believe that 3-Part Cards were a huge contributor to his early reading.

Kaitlyn now uses The Peaceful Preschool as well, and is a great resource for supplemental ideas and free printables, including 3-Part Cards for each letter of the alphabet. I love using them so much in our schooling that I began to create Real-Life 3-Part Cards to correlate with her illustrated ones. I wanted to introduce my children to the real animals and items, unlike they see in most picture books, which aligns with Montessori teaching. For each letter of the alphabet, I will be creating Real-Life 3-Part Cards to correlate. You can find the entire set here.

I prefer to print our 3-Part Cards on cardstock and laminate them. I plan to use these cards for years with multiple children, so they really benefit from durability. I love this color printer and use this inexpensive laminator with these laminating pouches. Scissors will do for cutting out laminated cards, but having a paper cutter for this task makes prep so much faster.

There are multiple ways you can use these cards, depending on the ability and interest of your child. It is also fun, but not necessary to have small items for your child to use for matching as well. Here are four main ways we use them.

1. Basic matching of any combination. Item to picture, item to word, picture to picture, word to picture, and word to word. I often leave them out on our Tot Tray shelf for the children to explore on their own throughout the day.

2. Movement matching. I also use movement games when we are matching, such as having them pick a word, complete a short obstacle course, and match the word to the picture at the end.

3. Memory matching. Flip all of the cards face down and take turns flipping them two at a time to try to make a match. I suggest using the whole cards for this, so that they are constantly seeing the word as well. If you have a reader, you could do the same game but match the split picture to the word.

4. Hide and Seek matching. During sensory play, hide the split pictures in rice or lentils and keep the words on the table. For my younger daughter I will hide one form of the pictures and the other form of the pictures will go on the table. They will dig to find a picture and then find the correlating word on the table to match.

There are endless ways to use these simple cards and I know over time I will just continue to find new ways to use them to engage my little ones. How do you use them? I would love to hear!