Little Squirrels: Easy sensory playdough to make at home

Five jars of pastel coloured playdough on a leaf green background and the text 'easy homemade sensory playdough'
Sensory playdough is one of our favourite eco make and do activities that we love to run with groups, so we thought we’d share our DIY recipe for you to try too!
Why make your own playdough? 
  • It’s a lot cheaper than buying it;
  • This homemade version feels so soft and lovely as you squidge it;
  • You can choose the colour, scent and the texture;
  • You can compost it, or put it in your food waste bin when you’re done with it;
  • It has no plastic packaging;
  • It doesn’t contain any ingredients derived from oil (shop-bought play-doh is thought to include mineral oil, a crude oil byproduct;
  • It’s a good opportunity to practice weighing, measuring and mixing skills with little ones. 
A child's hands kneading plain coloured playdough in a glass bowl

A note on safety: This playdough is not edible! While it won’t cause you any harm, it is very salty so do remind everyone taking part that it’s for play only. Take care when adding the hot water and make sure the ball of dough is sufficiently cool before anyone sticks their fingers in. If foraging for things to use make sure to give our hands a good wash afterwards. Finally, take care when using essential oils; use them sparingly and check no one taking part has allergies.

A note on using food for play: As a general rule we avoid using food for play for two reasons. Firstly, food has a substantial ecological footprint so using it for anything other than eating it feels like an unnecessary contribution to emissions, land use and waste. Secondly, when food scarcity is such a common issue in our communities, we don’t want to send conflicting messages that food is so abundant that we can literally play with it.


For us, playdough is an exception to this rule because it uses minimal ingredients, can be made with out of date food or scraps, lasts for weeks (if not months), replaces a less sustainable product (which also contains flour and salt), and can be composted as we’re not adding any unsuitable ingredients. What do you think? Is food-based play a no go for you, or do you feel it has a place? Let us know in the comments below! 

Ok, ready for the recipe?

We experimented with a lot of playdough recipes to come up with this perfect one – it’s very simple and doesn’t need to be cooked, it doesn’t crumble or fall apart, and it lasts for weeks in the fridge.


90g plain flour


35g cornflour


75g salt


1 tablespoon cream of tartar


1 tablespoon vegetable oil – any kind is fine. 


125ml very hot water


Food colouring – we’ve also included some ideas for natural colours below the recipe


Any scents and textures you want to add – see below the recipe for lots of ideas! 


Step 1: Mix the cornflour, salt, cream of tartar and vegetable oil. 


Step 2: Slowly add the hot water and mix to make a ball.


Step 3: Add any colours, scents, and textures then knead until smooth and soft. 


Step 4: Play! We’ve got some ideas at the end of this post. 


Step 5: Store it in a sealed plastic bag in the fridge.

A field of lavender flowers seen close up
Adding scents colours, and textures.

Essential oils: peppermint, lemon, sweet orange, cinnamon, bergamot, rosemary or lavender. You’ll need around 5 drops for this recipe – you can add more for a strong smell but add it slowly, an extra drop at a time, and make sure you’re not using essential oils with anyone who may have an allergy. 

Other smells: Vanilla essence, peppermint essence, rosewater (replace some of the hot water in the recipe with rose water), dried spices like cinnamon, ginger, or mixed spice, cocoa powder. 


Textures: flower petals (dried or fresh) such as rose, marigold, lavender or cornflower, fresh herbs such as rosemary or mint, citrus peel, cake sprinkles, coconut flakes, coffee grounds or tea leaves (used ones are fine). 


Natural colours: turmeric powder, blackberries or raspberries (3 crushed fruits should be enough), beetroot juice or water from cooking beetroot, cocoa powder. You can also buy dried fruit and veg powders which work well, or see below for an amazing colour changing experiment! 


5 sensory play ideas with your playdough. 


Fossil hunters: Make up a batch of playground with coffee grounds and a teaspoon of cocoa powder. Roll it out – not too thin – and create fossil imprints with natural objects such as shells or twigs or small toys like bugs or dinosaurs. You can also use a rolling pin to imprint the shapes of leaves. 


Colour changing magic: You will need a red cabbage, some lemon juice or vinegar, and some bicarbonate of soda. First make a batch of red cabbage Ph indicator by chopping half a red cabbage in small pieces (little ones can help buy tearing it), adding it to a saucepan and covering it with water. Simmer for ten minutes (mmm, that simmering cabbage smell!) and strain out the cabbage – you should be left with a beautiful purple colour. Divide your cabbage water between three jars or bowls. Carefully add a little lemon juice or vinegar to one jar – the acid will turn your cabbage water red or pink! Now add a little bicarb to one jar, and you should get a beautiful blue or green. You can use your three colours in place of the water in your recipe to colour three bowls of playdough. 


Gingerbread family: Add ginger, cinnamon and cloves to your dough, roll it out, and use biscuit cutters to cut out some gingerbread people. Decorate them with buttons, beads, or treasures from the garden like pebbles, shells, and flowers. 


Funny faces: Draw large oval shapes on some scrap paper. Use the playdough to create hair and features to turn them into the silliest faces possible. 


Garden Pizza: Roll out your playdough into a circle then go hunting in the garden or the park for some unusual toppings! Will you make a grass and dandelion pizza? A snail shell and pizza with fresh leaves? Or maybe a rainbow petal pizza.  


Would you like us to come and run an eco make and do activity with your group? Alternatively we can provide your team with training – online or in person – to run your own activities. Get in touch using the form below. 

Tell us a bit about who you work with, what kind of activities you're looking for, and what format would work best for you.

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