Who doesn't remember that lovely tactile feeling of squishing something warm through their fingers as a child? Some of us have more than likely never outgrown it. Enter homemade play clay for your children. Here in the Northwest the kids don't even consider playing outside during our wet and cold winters much. In fact caring for the outside animals is just about all they can take. So we look for plenty of indoor activities to fill the time once 'official' school is done. This play clay recipe lasts an incredibly long time and is truly best enjoyed right after it is finished. It will slowly dry to a hard consistency if you care to air dry it, but keeping it tightly sealed while not using it is best. I've extended its shelf-life by keeping it in the refrig, but it's really not necessary. The original recipe gave it a life of two to four weeks, but I've never really tracked it. Here goes:
Homemade Play Clay
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup water
1/2 cup salt
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
Mix together all ingredients except for the food coloring over medium heat in a heavy saucepan. Stir together as thoroughly as you can at this point. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly. It will begin to thicken, and then get thicker, and then so thick that it is pulling off of the sides of the pan and you just can't stir anymore ... really! Just be sure to try and get down to the bottom of the pan while you're stirring. Your pan is going to look like it has crusties all over the sides, but don't panic. You'll just let it soak in water for awhile and it will all loosen up. Once the dough has come together into a fairly well-formed ball, the cooking stage is done.
Take the pan off of the heat and turn the dough out onto a heat-safe surface. Let it cool slightly, but half of the fun is kneading it while it's still warm.
Once you're safely able to handle the dough, call the kids and start kneading it as if you were working with bread dough. Never kneaded bread dough before? Then just push your palm into the dough to flatten, then fold it over on itself and repeat. It will go from hot and sticky to warm, smooth, and pliable before you know it.
If you want color in your dough, now is the time to dribble a few drops onto the dough and knead the color it. Now here's the caution: wet food coloring drops will stain whatever they come into contact with such as your hands, your kids hands, and even the counter before it has been mixed in. So think ahead. Work on a baking sheet and put your hands inside baggies if you're worrried.
That's it. Be sure to enjoy it while it's still warm and get creative.