activity dough for keeps

Dough for Keeps

Stir up a souvenir that captures your little one’s hands. Molding this simple dough into long-lasting treasures celebrates your preschooler’s science learning and hand-eye coordination.


Be very careful with children around a hot stove. Keep pan handles in and away from little hands. Also, the mixing and rolling of dough are very messy. So prepare yourself, your preschooler, and your area. The good news is that this mixture is easy to clean, as it's very water soluble.

MATERIALS - click to buy
  1. Cookie cutters - About 3 inches in size yields about a dozen. Gather an assortment of shapes, at least one per child. We use a holiday cookie cutter set, like this 14-piece set here.
  2. 1/2 cup powdered cornstarch, like this example on Amazon
  3. ¾ cup water
  4. 1 cup baking soda found here
  5. Large mixing spoon
  6. Non-stick, heat-resistant spatula like this
  7. Cooking pot, large enough for all above ingredients. We use a 3 quart size like this non-stick, dishwasher-safe pot.
  8. Large bowl - About 7 quarts in size like this example. It's big enough for dough to cool in/
  9. Damp kitchen towel - Sized to cover your bowl
  10. Rolling pin - We prefer this stainless steel rolling pin, it’s dishwasher safe!
  11. Parchment paper
  12. Cookie sheet(s), about 12 by 18 inches like this one 
  13. Optional - Straws such as these reusable drinking straws to make holes for hanging
  14. Optional - Colorful yarn or thin ribbon, about ⅛ inch wide like this example for hanging 
  15. Optional - Engaging decorations such as liquid food coloring, twinkly sequins, sparkly glitter, clear-drying gel glue like this. For painting, we prefer to use a primary-color set of acrylic paint because it has a bright effect. But liquid tempera paint from a jar like this works in a pinch. Don't forget your child's age-friendly brushes, which you can find on our Materials guide.
  16. Optional - Toothpicks 
  17. Optional - Air-tight Ziplock bag to store extra dough
  18. Optional - Modge Podge sealer to protect your dried creations with a matte finish
  1. If you choose to use your oven, preheat it to 175 degrees F. These can be air-dried as well, in about 2 to 7 days.
  2. Skilly Spark:  Let’s mix up a special dough. It's different than play dough because it will get super hard and we can decorate if we want to! It will keep your hand print or make decorations that will last a very long time. What do you want to create or remember-- and why? 
  3. Have your children help measure the ingredients. Use measuring terms such as 1 cup, 3 quarters of a cup. It's a good way to reinforce number concepts.
  4. In your cooking pot, combine the cornstarch, baking soda, and water. If you want to add food coloring, add it to the water before mixing it in. The more food coloring you use, the more intense the colors will be.
  5. Skilly Spark #2: How do these ingredients look when they’re dry? How about when they’re wet? It’s perfectly safe to taste them, so go ahead! What do you think?
  6. Now, stir constantly over medium heat for about 2 to 3 minutes. The mixture will be stiff at first. Keep on stirring and it will get softer when all ingredients blend together. It’s ok if it boils a bit, it won’t hurt.
  7. When it looks like a thick, pulpy mixture, similar to mashed potatoes, remove the pot from the heat.
  8. Spoon into a bowl and cover it with a damp cloth until it’s cool enough to handle. This takes about 10 to 15 minutes.
  9. While you wait, line your baking sheet with parchment paper, cutting the paper to fit if needed.
  10. When your dough's cool, knead it on a smooth surface like your countertop until it’s smooth and silky. Your preschooler might like to do this. Some children don’t like the feel of dough, so don’t force it.  Add more cornstarch if it sticks to your hands or surface. If it's too dry, add a little bit of water and re-knead.
  11. Divide the dough into 2 halves for easier rolling. Dust your surface with cornstarch and roll with a rolling pin until the dough is about 1/4 inch thick. Older 3- and 4-year-olds can help you do this. If you don’t use all of the dough, it can be refrigerated in an airtight bag, such as Ziplock for at least a month.
  12. Use your choice of cookie cutters to cut out shapes. Or, to make a handprint, let your little one press her hand into the dough until an impression is made. You can use a toothpick to write your child’s name and the year. Or write it on later, when fully dry.
  13. When you’ve finished the hand print, place something round, like a big mug or small bowl, large enough fit around it. Then, use a table knife to cut all the way around. Voila! You have a plaque.
  14. If you want to hang your creations, use a straw to make a hole at the top. 
  15. Adults, transfer your dough to the lined baking sheet and bake for about an hour, turning the shapes over halfway through cooking. If you’ve made a handprint plaque, do not turn it over. It will muddle the print.
  16. Check on your dough and do not let your items brown. If you choose not to use an oven, simply let the shapes air dry, for about 2 to 7 days.
  17. Remove them from the oven and let them cool. If they still seem a bit soft, let them air dry until they have fully hardened and are completely white.
  18. Now it’s time for decorating! Paint your shapes, brush on clear glue to add glitter, or any small items that catch your child’s fancy.
  19. When you're all done, add a ribbon or yarn through each holes and they’re ready for viewing. Protect with a sealant like Modge Podge for an even longer life.
  20. Have fun cleaning up together!
Keep the fun going
  • Make your footprints forever, too!
  • Take your leftover dough, let it get to room temperature, then make Martin Luther King or Valentine’s Day decorations.
  • When dough is soft, add unique patterns with fingers, fork tines, paper clips or child-sized, patterned rolling pins like these.
  • You’re a star so you get a star! Choose a unique shape for each member of the family to give as gifts.
  • See how you’ve grown! Make hand or foot prints for each year. Older children, 4 years and up can measure them to see exactly how much bigger they’ve gotten.