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3 Ways to use Playdough for Math

Written by Amber Marie | March 13, 2018

If you haven’t learned already, I am a STRONG ADVOCATE for hands-on learning, especially when it comes to MATH (take a look at my post where I highlight the benefits of hands-on learning). As a teacher, I used to try and find any way I could to include manipulatives in the math lessons I was teaching. In my homeschool, it isn’t any different.

One of the most versatile manipulatives out there is playdough. You can use it for pretty much anything from teaching letter formation to counting to geography. You name it and playdough can probably be used to enhance the learning experience in some way. When it comes to math, children can use playdough measure and count or compare and contrast shapes and sizes. These types of play with playdough encourage stronger mathematical reasoning and thinking skills. According to the National Associations for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), “These play experiences [with playdough] encourage children to practice counting, learn about shapes (geometry) and how they relate to each other (spatial sense), and practice sorting and classifying. Such mathematical ways of thinking prepare children for learning more complex math concepts in the coming years.” Who wouldn’t want their children more prepared for future math skills? I know for me the answer is simple and playdough is easy enough to implement into my school day.

Therefore, today I’d like to share a playdough recipe I love (shared by my mother-in-law, learn about her in my first homeschool mom crush post), along with a few resources I’ve used from other homeschoolers. As a bonus, this recipe also allows for teaching basic fractions with measuring cups (for more on that see my post on baking and math). So without further ado, onto the recipe.

Playdough Recipe

Before this recipe, I had scoured Pinterest for playdough recipes but found odd ingredients or difficult instructions. I LOVE THIS RECIPE! It is so simple and you probably have all the ingredients right now in your kitchen (or can have them within two days using Amazon Prime)

One key ingredient for this recipe is gel food coloring. It helps keep the playdough from dyeing your hands (lesson learned when making slime). At first, when mixing the color into the dough, you will get color on your hands, unless you wear gloves. As for myself, I don’t mind a little color on my hands as it is normally rubbed off by the end of the day.

Your children can definitely help in making the recipe as there are no harmful ingredients except for maybe the boiling water at the end, which you will want to do yourself. We don’t need any trips to the hospital for third-degree burns now do we? Check out the recipe below.


The recipe uses staple items from your kitchen such as flour, salt, and vegetable oil. You may have cream of tartar in your pantry, but if not check out this one on Amazon. As mentioned above, you’ll want to use gel food coloring like this, instead of the liquid food coloring or each time your children plays with the playdough, their hands will be a wonderful color from the rainbow.

The first four ingredients are mixed in a bowl. This can be done with a spoon or a mixer, your choice. After mixed well, you will need to acquire some boiling water. The amount is unknown as you base it off of the consistency of the dough. One of these days I’ll measure it out, but for now, I just eyeball it. If you add too much (as I have done plenty of times), no worries, just add some more flour and your set. The dough should have the same consistency as playdough. It may feel a bit dryer to the touch, but it molds well and is as pliable as the store-bought stuff.

After the dough has cooled, separate it into smaller balls based on the number of colors you’d like to make. I made six baseball sized balls from one batch and made two of each color (green, red, blue). This is the part where your hands will get messy. To each ball, add a few drops of gel food coloring then mold and fold until the color melts into the dough consistently. If you want it darker, add a few more drops. CAUTION: I have tried to make colors by mixing primary colors and I always end up with an ugly gray. So if you want special colors like purple, pink, teal or whatever, just buy those gel food colors (it’ll save you a lot of headaches). Once the color is mixed in well, give it five minutes to set then let your children go to town!

As far as storage, I would suggest using plastic containers versus Ziploc bags. They hold up so much better and if you get ones like these screw-top ones, they are easy for younger children to open and close. Enjoy making this recipe with your children, then make sure to check out the awesome math resources below made by other homeschoolers and me.



  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 2 tbsp cream of tartar
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • Boiling Water (eye-balled)

  • Mix all ingredients together.
  • Pour in boiling water until it can be mixed and forms a dough.
  • After cooled, separate into four to six balls.
  • Add gel food coloring and mix.
  • Let stand for 5 minutes before use.


Math Playdough Resources

After making your playdough, you are ready to use it for teaching math (or any other subject you wish). Below, I’ve shared three resources I have found useful in making my math lessons more hands-on and fun. Be sure to check out each homeschoolers blog post regarding the resources. And don’t forget to download my freebie for playdough patterns at the end.

Number Playdough Mats

The first resource comes from Playdough to Plato in a guest post by Kim, a homeschool mom of 7 years. She includes number recognition, formation, and counting on printable for numbers one to ten. Your child can form the number using playdough, place playdough sprinkles on the cupcake, then finish by making playdough balls for the ten frame at the bottom. At the top, you can use a dry erase marker or crayon to fill in the missing number. This is a great way to enforce number sense and number recognition.

Check out her post here and get the free download!

Playdough Shapes Activity

The second resource I’d like to share is from Kristina at School Time Snippets. Her printable shape cards are a great way to teach your children about making shapes. I especially like these cards because you can extend the lesson further and teach about the number of sides (toothpicks) and vertices (playdough). You can even let your children get creative and build 3D shapes.

My son really enjoyed using the playdough to connect the toothpicks and he sure did get creative and tried to build a tower. It helps to have blunt end craft sticks like these to help prevent poked fingers or mischief with pointy ends.

Check out her post here and be sure to download her freebie!


Playdough Pattern Mat

Last but not least, I wanted to share the freebie I made for playdough patterns. I discovered the usefulness of playdough with teaching patterns when my son was playing one day. I had just used colored bears to teach an ABAB pattern earlier that day. During quiet time, my son loves playing with playdough and I heard him call me over from the kitchen. When I entered the dining room, he had made an ABAB pattern with two playdough colors. Needless to say, I was impressed.

My printable only practices patterns using different playdough colors, but you are not limited to just colors. You can use cookie or playdough cutters like these to make shape patterns as well. The possibilities are endless.


This freebie has four playdough mats. Each includes a pattern key that you can color in or have your child indicate the colors with a small ball of playdough. There are six patterns your child can follow or they can create a pattern of their own. Try them out today by clicking on the button below. If you are already a member, you can find them in the Member’s Library. 

Whether you are teaching patterns, number recognition, shapes, or another math concept, playdough should be within reach as a manipulative. Playdough has many versatile uses that allow you to expand on your child’s mathematical reasoning and thinking skills. What better way to do this than with a fun manipulative like playdough. Also, there are many more resources out there for playdough so be sure to check out my Pinterest board specifically for playdough mats and other lessons.

Amber Marie

Welcome to my homeschooling blog. I’m a former educator turned homeschool mom. Homeschooling is a relatively new adventure for our family. Click my picture to learn more about my story and why I homeschool my family.

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Do you know of other playdough resources? Want to share other ways to use playdough for teaching math? Share in the comments below.


1 Comment

  1. Lee @ Dragon'sEyeView

    My daughter is not getting the concept of division as the reverse of multiplication. Maybe I will try to make some dragon-themed playdough mats for her! You’ve got me thinking, thanks for the idea! I will check out your Pinterest board too!


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