Night Sky Activities for Preschool: Stretchy Night Sky Playdough

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

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).

Playdough in the classroom

Playdough creations in the classroom!

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 play dough

Stretchy Night Sky Playdough Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 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.

Glitter!!

The finished project is truly the most gorgeous playdough I’ve ever seen.

 Stretchy Night Sky Playdough
Just try to resist it. I dare ya.

Kneading Night Sky Playdough
But seriously. Why would you want to?

Stretchy Night Sky Playdough and Loose Parts
Developmental Skills

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.

More Night Sky Activities for Preschool:

Stretchy Night Sky Playdough

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Comments

  1. I love the addition of all of the loose parts. So fun! Off to share!!

  2. I seriously cannot get enough of these night sky activities!!! We cannot waaaaiit to make this gorgeous play dough :)!!!

  3. This is FABULOUS!! Love all the glitter, love all the loose parts!

  4. This is absolutely gorgeous, Stephanie!

  5. How do you store it? And how long does it last before it gets too hard to use? Looks like a wonderful idea!

    • Stephanie says:

      Hi Penny! Right now ours is stored in a ziplock bag just like all our other playdoughs- any airtight container would work fine. I made the batch from the photographs about five days ago and so far so good- I’ll let you know if it starts to harden!

  6. Hiya. I just attempted making this and it has not worked for me – it has a lumpy texture and is sticking all over my hands (like pizza dough, but lumpy!). Wondered what I did wrong, and whether I can rectify it – or whether to chuck it away and start again… any advice? thank you!
    PS – It also smells terrible – anything I can do about that too?

    • Stephanie says:

      Hi Claire! Hmmm, it sounds to me like the gelatin is the issue- if it’s not completely dissolved before you add the rest of the ingredients I could see it getting lumpy. And when I was testing the recipe, if I used more than the amount of gelatin I specified the dough was too sticky to use. Kneading in flour could help the stickiness but I don’t know about the lumps. As for the smell, I have no idea. I made at least 6 batches of this during testing and never had a smell!

  7. thanks Stephanie – have been experimenting – kneaded in more flour and stuck it in microwave for 30 seconds – seems to have helped stickiness a bit! smell might be the paint/ food colouring I used. Might call it ‘volcanic lava’ play instead, LOL

  8. oh, and some lavender essential oil has improved the smell too!

    • Stephanie says:

      HAHA to volcanic lava play, and I’m glad the lavender oil improved the smell! What kind of paint did you use to color it? I think you are right- that must be the culprit. I made some bubbly black paint last week to use for this theme and it smelled AWFUL- sometimes tempera paint has weird smells when you use it in recipes because it contains egg yolk. I have no idea if that’s what you used but it’s probably something along those lines!

  9. I used all I had which was ready mix poster paint and a bit of food colouring gel! My daughter and husband are currently playing a game of ‘hot potato’ by throwing balls of my dough at each other – calling it ‘hot lava rocks – hilarious!

  10. Feels fabulous and stretchy…. But super oily… Remedy ?

    • Stephanie says:

      Hi Emilia! I have no idea why it would be oily- if anything the gelatin would make it on the sticky side, not the oily side. If you followed the recipe, all I can think of is maybe our climates are different? What did you end up using to color the playdough? Regardless, all I can think of is to try adding more flour. Let me know how it goes, we haven’t had any issues with it being oily at all :/

  11. Christy S says:

    I don’t have any kids (nor do I want any!) but I’m absolutely going to make some night sky play dough for myself! The galaxy slime too! Growing up is for suckers! Keep playing!!!

  12. When I need to color something black, I use Wilton Gel colours. You only need a 1/2 teaspoon or so to make a rich black, and it gets blacker over time. It has no smell at all. Maybe that would work for this recipe. I would love to try this with phosphorescent glitter and play with it under black lights.

  13. Thanks for this great post! We made some today which was great messy play for my 3 year old. He was occupied for hours! His baby brother has a cold at the moment so he’s been getting frustrated at having to tiptoe around him, this was a lovely change of pace and only took a few minutes to make.

  14. This looks so pretty! We’re planning on making it this afternoon. I noticed something in the second picture down that brought me back to childhood. There is a clear blue circle that has cuts in the edges in the bottom right hand corner. My grandmother had a set of those at her house when I was little. They were all different colors and they were interlocking, and I loved playing with them. Any chance you bought them recently? I would love to find a set for my daughters. Even if it is something vintage, perhaps you have the name of the toy and I could try my luck on Etsy or Ebay? Thank you so much.

  15. We just made our first batch but it came out dry, no stretchy ness at all ;( Sadly disappointed. I’m wondering while warming if I should add more oil ? I added a bit more water but to no avail… We even used sax liquid water colours dark dark purple and added some food colour… Just too dry ;(

    • Stephanie says:

      Hi Jeanine!
      I’m really sad that it didn’t work for you- I actually made this playdough again recently for my twins’ preschool class using the same recipe and it still turned out as moist and bouncy as ever! I really have no idea why it would be too dry- if anything the gelatin would add a sticky element. Maybe try more oil? Again, sorry it didn’t work out for you :/

  16. This looks great! I am going to make it for my son’s space themed party and divide it up among the kids and let them add the glitter…. I am wondering how much this makes? I will have 12 kids and am wondering if I need to double or triple the recipe? Thanks!

    • Stephanie says:

      Hi Amy! For 12 kids I’d probably triple or even quadruple the recipe just to be on the safe side. For my class of 6 preschoolers a double batch was barely enough. Hope that helps!

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