Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Homemade Jell-O Play Dough

When the kids are sick or steadily getting sicker (as is the case this week), I like to throw together a few simple ingredients and whip up a batch of play dough. Now, this process marvels them. At first they think it's a batch of cookies (equally exciting) and I don't even have to tell them what it is because they always guess it as soon as it's moldable. We really love adding a special ingredient to every batch we make. Sometimes it's an herb or flowers or tea. But their current favourite is Jell-O! Koolaid packets work just as well, but we happened to have extra Jell-O on hand, which we use for sensory bins and homemade play dough.

The Jell-O play dough smells (sometimes only faintly, depending on the scent) of whatever packet you use (for this batch we used Berry Blue). The colours typically aren't as vibrant, but it's nice to have a set of "pastel" play doughs. You can obviously add extra colouring using Gel Paste Food Colors or Icing Colors, which both work great! Liquid food colouring also works great for play dough, but sometimes requires quite a bit to reach the colour you desire. 

Now there are two ways to make Jell-O play dough. The stove top version and the no-cook version. Ever since I discovered a recipe for no-cook play dough I haven't gone back to the stove top version. It's just so much easier, especially since my kids hover around me and the play dough until it is complete. Cooking play dough on the stove means constantly leaning down to pick them up so they can see the progress. While this is ok at dinner time because most things we cook don't need to continuously be stirred, it's not exactly ideal when cooking play dough. I love their excitement and curiosity, but at the end of the day, I prefer the easier option of a no-cook (basically hassle-free) version.   

The Cooked Version

Jell-O play dough can be time consuming to make, but the end result makes it worth it! It isn't really something you can make with younger kids, apart from letting them help stir before you begin cooking. You also need to make one batch at a time, since you need to stir it continuously and watch it carefully. Making several batches in one night is a work-out, but then you will have plenty of play dough to last you quite a while.

What you will need:
~ 1 3oz package of Jell-O
~ 1 cup flour
~ 1 cup warm water
~ 2 tablespoons cream of tartar
~ 2 tablespoons salt
~ 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Mix all the ingredients in a medium sized pot (I've noticed that non-stick pots work the best, because it is quite sticky!). Stir until there are no more clumps. Cook over medium heat, stirring continuously. This is the part that is time consuming and tiring, but don't fret, it will be done in a few minutes!
Stir until it forms a lump in the middle of the pot. It will take a few minutes for the consistency to really thicken up and stick together, but be patient. Once it forms a ball, turn off the heat and transfer it to a heat-resistant surface. Be careful, it will be very hot! Let it cool, this will take 20-30 minutes. (In the meantime, maybe start on a second batch!) Once it is cool enough to touch, sprinkle on some flour and knead it until it is no longer sticky. It took us about 1/2 cup of flour (you can manage less, I just typically use more flour to speed up the process).
Once it is finished, give it to the kids and watch as they go crazy over it! If your kids are as excited about play dough as mine are, they will love this! It also smells great and the colours are very vibrant (some are, depending on the Jell-O used, while some are more pastely), but you can add food colouring to make them darker if you want. I wouldn't recommend eating it though, but at least this recipe is safe in case there are any accidental bites.

Once the little ones are done playing with it, store it in an airtight container. It will keep for several weeks. Refrigerate it to preserve it longer. (I apologize for the lack of pictures, it has just been quite a while since we cooked play dough.)

Now for our favourite play dough making process..

No Cook Play Dough

Here's what you'll need:
~ 2 cups plain, all-purpose flour
~ 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
~ 1/2 cup table salt
~ 2 tablespoons of cream of tartar
~ 3/4 to 1 cup of boiling water (for a non-Jell-O version, this recipe can use up to 1.5 cups of water)
~ 1 3oz. package of Jell-O 
~ food colouring, gel or icing (optional: for darker or more vibrant colours)

Mix together the dry ingredients (flour, salt and cream of tartar), then mix in vegetable oil until well combined.

Boil water and measure out 1 cup. Mix in Jell-O packet and stir until Jell-O is completely dissolved. (This would be the step to add the additional colouring.)

Slowly add in Jell-O water. Only about 3/4 cup is needed, but it's not an exact science, so mix it until the play dough has a consistency that you like. Add extra water or flour as needed. Once it is cooled down enough to touch start kneading it until all the ingredients are completely combined. It is then ready to be played with! (And store in an airtight container when you are done!)

This play dough is SO SOFT! It feels fantastic to play with and is easy to mold with. Though because it is softer, it will eventually become slightly limp. While no colours are transferred to skin or fabric (provided you didn't add extra), it does leave some residual play dough on your hands. But it's barely noticeable and isn't sticky, though you'll want to wash your hands afterwards.

Since the kids are sick, I set them up on the living room floor where we were camping out for the day. Typically when we camp out in the living room, I set up blankets and pillows around them to lay down and relax and play. However, since play dough in general likes to stick to stuff, I pushed the blankets and pillows out of the way. I gave them each a cookie tray that is used specifically for their activities that I bought from the Dollar Tree.

They picked out an assortment of materials to use with their play dough (popsicle sticks, various sized corks, wooden spools, plastic buttons, and foam shapes). These are great for fine motor activities, but I let them play however they wanted. They really enjoyed lining up the popsicles in the play dough.

Munchkin enjoyed creating little contraptions out of the materials.

Since it was cold out, we made a little snow man! However it hasn't snowed in our area yet, though it did on the other side of town!

They even added arms and eyes! Too cute!

Bean had lots of fun returning the play dough to the bowl and stirring it up until it looked like "cookie play dough".

Yum Berry Cookie Dough!

Giant Yum Berry Cookie!

Which turned into a fun shape matching game for Munchkin!! (Another reason why play dough is so fantastic!)

And then we made some fun faces! This is a beaver.. "with very sharp teeth!"

Girl and boy beavers. Orange is the boy and blue is the girl. :) The googly eyes are fantastic on play dough creations!

Bean uses the popsicle sticks as "knives" so she could cut the play dough.. poor beaver.

Munchkin loved recreating faces and adding different shapes and pointing to ask me what they are. Nose, ear, eye, etc.

Of course that meant lots of silly faces! And Bean rolled an army of balls. :)

Unattached eyeballs!

Bean also practiced creating letters with the foam shapes and popsicle sticks.

It was pretty amazing how she figured out how to arrange the letters. :)

And then when Bean removed the popsicle sticks and foam shapes, Munchkin was able to arrange them back into place. It was a great activity for them to work together on the same letter.

Bean also molded some letters out of the play dough.

And Munchkin continued to make silly faces for the rest of the time they played with the play dough. How cute is this face?! Ok.. one of the eyeballs is a popsicle stick, but who cares. :)

Please always stay within arms reach of your child(ren) when they are playing. Some sensory materials may not be age suitable for every child. Please use your own judgement when creating sensory activities for your child(ren). 

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