Series: Ideas at Work

Homemade Playdough Recipe for Shape Fun

Homemade Playdough Recipe for Shape Fun
Homemade Playdough Recipe for Shape Fun

Use a simple homemade playdough recipe to cook up some shape fun! Stamping or imprinting playdough with everyday household items is an active way for children to explore the big ideas of shape, including the discovery that 3-dimensional objects are made up of 2-dimensional shapes. For example, a spaghetti box is made up of six rectangles of three different sizes. A can of beans has two circular bases of the same size. As children flip, turn, and slide these shapes during play, they develop and deepen their understanding of shapes properties such as flat or curved surfaces and pointy or square corners.

Starting in infancy, children interact with the world largely through object play such as rolling a ball, building a tower, or climbing inside a large cardboard box. You can bring out the math when you add language to describe what and how they are interacting with the different objects in their world. Young children do not yet possess the formal words to express what they are noticing about shapes and their properties, but we can use math language and gestures to guide them.

Playdough is a rich material for children to engage in play; there is no limitation to what you can create. To begin, follow this homemade playdough recipe to make the dough and collect common household objects of a variety of shapes for printing. You can find these items in your cabinets and your recycling bin, such as empty toilet paper or paper towel rolls, cans, caps, and small boxes such as a toothpaste box or small jewelry boxes. Use items that will fit in your child’s hand and create an imprint in the playdough.

Once you’ve made the playdough and gathered all the objects you plan to use, ask your child to roll out and flatten the playdough. How can they do that using one of the objects? Which objects roll and which ones don’t?

Homemade Playdough Recipe

Homemade Playdough Recipe

Your role is to layer the experience with what you notice the children discovering. “When you pressed the lid into the playdough, it made a circle!” or, “Look at four lines and four corners you made with the toothpaste box.” For a fun challenge, ask your child to compose a larger shape or picture made up of smaller shapes. Shape composition helps build a child’s spatial reasoning skills.

This purposeful play activity with objects from around the house will continue to engage your children while deepening their mathematical understanding. See how much fun through exploration and conversation you can have!

Do both sides make the same shape? ​

Homemade Playdough Recipe

Homemade Playdough Recipe

An eyeball was created using multiple cylinders.​

Homemade Playdough Recipe

(Adapted from


  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1 tablespoons of olive oil, cooking oil, or vegetable oil
  • food coloring


  1. In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients – flour, cream of tartar, salt – and mix it well.
  2. Mix the food coloring with the water. And then add vegetable oil and the water and food coloring into a big pot. Then mix those together.
  3. Add all dry ingredients to the pot and mix those well.
  4. Cook all of it over low-to-medium heat so that the dough starts to form and becomes a dry dough.
  5. Once it begins to form a ball and looks cooked fully, take it off the heat. Allow for the dough to cool before touching.
  6. Once it is cool, knead the dough for around five minutes so that the dough is soft.