Tuesday, 16 August 2011


Summer holidays in the city with kids.  Unless you're prepared to spend a small fortune on so-called family days out (100 quid family outing to the zoo* anyone?), there's only so much time you can spend at the park.  And when it rains, which in London it does a lot, what then?  Trying my best to keep to a one-dvd-a-day limit, and keeping unnecessary spending to a minimum, these days my brain has been working overtime thinking up fun, free and stimulating things to do with my incredibly active almost three-year-old son.  Today: making playdough.  

All kids, toddler aged and up, will love pouring out the ingredients, choosing the colours, mixing it all up, adding glitter, marbling two or more colours together... and that's just the making part.

Inspired by a conversation I recently had with a close friend (and very creative mother of two), I really think the key when planning kids' activities is to have more than one part to the process.  For example, you spend one afternoon in the park/garden/heath picking blackberries (in season now).  Some you eat there and then - a fresh pudding for your picnic, some you take home.  The next morning you spend making something with the berries you brought home - a pie, lollies, jam, anything simple that kids can help with.  And finally you get to enjoy what you made altogether.  With older kids you could even set up a little stall for them to sell the jam/pie to passers by.

Not only does staggering an activity prolong the fun, but simple step-by-step projects like this will instill a sense of process and continuity, will teach children about seeing something through from start to finish, and of course, will stimulate their creativity and increase their skill and capability, as opposed to simply playing with something that is put in front of them (and inevitably getting bored or frustrated pretty quickly).

~ Playdough Recipe (no cooking required) ~

1/2 cup plain flour
1/4 cup salt
1/2 tbsp cream of tartare
1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup boiling water
a generous splash of food colouring
Optional: a few drops of essential oil, glitter

In a bowl combine dry ingredients and oil.  Add the boiling water, food colouring and essential oil and mix thoroughly.  It will feel very pasty to begin with but keep mixing and it will quickly turn doughy as it cools.  Store in tupperware or sealable sandwich bags.  This recipe is enough for one little batch weighing about 300g.  I made three batches - one red, one green and one blue (with gold glitter!).

the mixture at first, soft and pasty

the finished dough

* Free alternative to an afternoon at the zoo?  Take the kids to a pet shop and as long as you don't mind pretending to the staff that you are seriously in the market for a new puppy/kitten/iguana, you will be able to pet and cuddle baby animals to your heart's content.

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