My children (and I) have a serious love affair with playdough. It’s our go-to activity for rainy days, lazy days, cranky days…just about any day, really! Seeing them spend entire afternoons happily engaged with something so simple is motivation enough for me to keep trying new versions to delight them. And thank goodness their preschool class shares their affinity for dough, because I made this stretchy, sparkly batch as an activity for our study of the night sky. I played around with our basic recipe a bit to create a dough that was extra shiny and had more stretch than your typical playdough, so read on to see what new ingredient I added!
Stretchy Night Sky Playdough
*This post includes Amazon affiliate links.
I first saw the idea for black sparkly playdough over at one of my favorite blogs, Fairy Dust Teaching. I’ve also seen versions at The Imagination Tree, Nurturstore, and Sunhats and Wellie boots, among others. I love it because it’s a fun, hands-on way to explore the concepts of space, night and day, light and dark, etc. Younger children will enjoy the sensory elements of the sparkly dough, while children with more developed symbolic play skills will enjoy using the dough in conjunction with loose parts and figures to create more elaborate play scenes. When I presented this to the 3-year-old class at the co-op, I placed our large acrylic mirror sheet on the table top for a work surface and then placed several baskets of playdough and loose parts out for them to explore, including a variety of gems in interesting shapes and colors, star cupcake toppers, and astronaut figures that I picked up at a discount store. All seven of the children were super engaged and made some pretty fantastic creations (more classroom photos can be found on our co-op Facebook page).
The cool thing about the particular recipe that I used is that it has an element of elasticity that is missing from our typical homemade playdough. It still has the qualities of regular playdough and is super smooth and soft, but I noticed when I was kneading it that it bounces back a bit when you press into it, and if you roll a small ball of it it will even bounce a bit when you drop it on a hard surface! It also has a little more stretch than usual, which you can see in the photo below. Neat, huh?
Stretchy Night Sky Playdough Recipe
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup water*
- Black liquid watercolors*
- 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
- 1/3 cup salt
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon Knox Unflavored Gelatin (1/2 envelope)- I linked this to Amazon for reference but you can find it WAY cheaper in the grocery store!
- GENEROUS amounts of glitter (We used several colors of regular sized and fine glitter to give the playdough a cosmic appearance)
To make our stretchy night sky playdough, first you will need to decide what type of coloring you want to use. I used black liquid watercolors and it produced a super rich, very black dough that did not stain our hands during play. You could also use black food coloring, but from what I’ve read (haven’t tried it) you have to use a large amount (like an entire bottle) so be sure to have plenty on hand! Regardless of what type of coloring you choose, you’ll need a good amount to get a deep black, so to avoid throwing off the proportions in your recipe, just remember that you need about a cup of liquid total, not counting the oil. *What I did was take my measuring cup and fill it about 7/8 of the way full of water, and then filled it the rest of the way with the watercolors.
Once you have your cup of liquid, pour it into a medium saucepan and then sprinkle the gelatin powder over the top. Then, turn the burner on high and stir the liquid for a few minutes until the gelatin is dissolved. After that, turn the heat down while you add the rest of your ingredients (except the glitter) and then crank the heat back up to medium. Stir constantly until the dough thickens and begins to form a large clump around the spoon (this should only take about a minute). At this point, remove from heat and turn your dough out onto a plate or wax paper to cool. Once it’s cool, knead in your glitter- you can see below all of the different kinds we used! Our fine glitter was provided by Craftprojectideas.com.
The finished project is truly the most gorgeous playdough I’ve ever seen.
Playdough activities are stellar for stimulating multiple areas of development at once. Playdough itself is very engaging to the senses, especially if you add interesting/novel elements such as an unexpected color, glitter, or a fun scent. Dough play is great for cognitive development as children use their problem solving skills to manipulate the material to make specific creations using whatever tools they have on hand. Adding loose parts and small figures to playdough is great for encouraging pretend play, which we know is wonderful for language, cognition, and social-emotional development. And of course, opportunities for fine motor practice abound as the kiddos knead, roll, stretch, push, poke, etc. to their hearts’ content.