Playdough follow-up: feathers and googly eyes


First, I want to say that I set the playdough out again for the toddler art group this week without any tools. And as far as I could tell, it was completely ignored except for the brief period when I and another mom poked and squeezed it ourselves and vainly tried to encourage our offspring to do the same. It was on the toddler table in the area where we spent much of our time hanging out before and after going back to the studio for our "official" art activity (fingerpainting, which I'll post about soon). If anyone has any tips for getting the toddlers to explore the playdough with their hands, I'd love to hear them!


I did get a lot of great ideas for tools and decorations from the comments that you left, though. Thank you! Zoe from Playing by the Book mentioned that her girls liked to decorate playdough with feathers and googly eyes, and I knew Maia would love to do the same.


Yesterday I got out our feathers, googly eyes, and the playdough for Maia to play with after Daphne went to bed. She had a blast and made a friendly little monster family with them.


The next morning Daphne found the playdough monsters (we left the playdough out overnight — oops!) and was fascinated.


She poked the rest of the googly eyes in the playdough while I did some laundry.

I'm going to continue to present the playdough without tools sometimes, but we enjoy tools (and decorations) too much to do without them completely. And with an older sibling in the house, I can't control Daphne's environment and experiences quite as much. In fact, I'm already planning to try some of the other ideas you suggested — rubber stamps, shells, beads, hardware, clothespins, corks, using koolaid or watercolors to dye the playdough, etc…


  • Reply
    January 27, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    Those feathers and googly eyes are always such a bit hit! Also, we dye our homemade playdough with India Tree dyes, they are all natural plant based so kids with sensitivities are safe:-)

  • Reply
    January 27, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    I like the googly eyes and feather idea! I may have to try that with my son (age three). Also I think I might have to give him some tools to play with, otherwise he seems more interested in me playing with it and him watching.

  • Reply
    January 27, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    How fun!!! The kids are going to love this! Now I need to figure out how to not get my 22 mo old not to eat the eyes. lol

  • Reply
    Julie Liddle, ART IN HAND
    January 27, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    Jean, in our toddler groups we always make the playdough together first, THEN play with it. While many are hesitant to touch it while it is still in it’s sticky gooey phase, most are really eager to touch and play with it once it becomes playdough before their very eyes. And I don’t introduce the tools right away. I usually have 2-3 kids and their moms work together per mixing bowl, and each kid has their own stirring tool and everyone takes turns and works together on measuring, scooping and dumping ingredients and mixing (with some parental assistance as needed). It’s usually regarded by moms and kids alike as a favorite activity in my classes. Oh, and we always use the liquid watercolors for dying the dough with gorgeous results and endless variety of colors that result from the kids’ each choosing their own color to squirt in there–red, yellow, blue, magenta, turquoise are the choices I offer.

  • Reply
    January 27, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    TO get the kids more interested in the playdough, you could try different textures, like oats or coffee grounds(Maryann has a special coffee ground playdough recipe I’m sure you know about…), and you could also try making to different colors so the kids could experiment with mixing.
    Hope this helps!

  • Reply
    January 27, 2011 at 9:21 pm

    I work with 3 and 4 yr olds…We also make playdough with them and use acrylic paint to color it, my favourite is black playdough, they enjoy making ‘things’ using bright pipecleaners, googly eyes, sticks etc from the garden (we love Mr Potato Head parts too). Just a note, its certainly not uncommon to see a child making whatever their heart desires using no props even though they are freely available.
    Cheers Jacq

  • Reply
    Julie Liddle (ART IN HAND)
    January 27, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    Ooh, love the idea of making black playdough and adding colorful accents. Amazing the little things that you might not think of yourself (in all the years I’ve been making playdough with the little one’s — never thought to stray from my standard color choices!)…one of the great things about this forum, that we can share our ideas, big and small.

  • Reply
    January 27, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    We tried the goggly eyes and feathers straight away because and both my kids loved it. We all had a good laugh at our monsters- so much fun!

  • Reply
    Ms. Maria
    January 27, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    I’m fascinated by these stories of toddlers not wanting to manipulate playdough! My daughter love, love, looooooved it from the very beginning. Making it together was certainly part of the fun, but she loved it when it came in the little canisters too. I should make some soon, actually, it’s been a long time.

  • Reply
    January 27, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    I have a 16-month old, and he LOVES playdough because he sees his big brother playing with it, and having a blast. Everything Big Brother does is very cool. Perhaps let both of your girls experiment together? The little one loves everything about it, and especially loves breaking off chunks and throwing them to the floor.

  • Reply
    January 28, 2011 at 2:34 am

    I have a 5 yo son and 2 yo daughter, and completely agree that I can’t control my younger child’s environment as much as my first child. We just started using playdough tools last year. Making “cheese” with the garlic press tool is frustrating for my daughter b/c the tool comes apart so easily. But just this morning, she asked for playdough, but she didn’t play with any of the tools! She happily made lots of little pancakes. The second time she asked for them today, I didn’t get out the tools, and she didn’t even notice. I suppose it depends on her mood.
    What my son’s occupational therapists used to do with playdough was sing to the tune of “Ten Little Indians/Native Americans”, e.g., “Roll, roll, roll your playdough (3x)…. roll it oh, so nice–ly!” They’d replace the verb with poke, hammer, etc.

  • Reply
    Leigh @ Toasted
    January 28, 2011 at 3:33 am

    Ah, I’ve just had my memory sparked by these comments. I remember hiding beads inside the play dough and the kids had loads of fun finding them. i can’t remember exactly, but my boy must have been one-and-a-half at the time and he was totally into poking and prodding so he could get the beads.
    I briefly left the room where my 5 and 2.5 year old were playing with the play dough this arvo and came back to find they were about to use the wine glasses to make some circles!!!! Um… I’m a bit behind on the dishes so the precious stuff at the back of the cupboard is right on display. I quickly scrounged around for some plastic cups to replace them!

  • Reply
    January 28, 2011 at 5:18 am

    So glad to see the googly eyes and feathers were a hit! I think the idea of making the dough together is a great one, and I’d also concur that hidden beads/gems are a good idea – marbles are also a big hit in our home as are those glass pebbly things you can use in flower arrangements. Obviously depends on what your kids are like with putting things in their mouths but the treasure hunt aspect (and using them for decoration) is very popular with my girls.

  • Reply
    January 28, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    Thanks for your ideas about playdough. My husband and I were looking for a quiet time activity to do with our 18 month old son before bedtime and the playdough is a great “centering” activity for him in which he can calm down and focus. We don’t give him any tools, just sit down next to him and play. Also, we noticed he likes putting the playdough in containers. So, we gave him some empty coffee cans, tupperware, and cups to put the playdough inside. has some great playdough tips, too.

  • Reply
    January 28, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    In my preschool classroom the students love, love, love to use muffin tins with their playdough!

  • Reply
    January 28, 2011 at 10:20 am

    Using feathers and googly eyes is such a cute idea. My girls are going to love it. Thanks!

  • Reply
    January 28, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    For some reason, play dough always seems more interesting to them if I roll it in balls of all different sizes. I think it’s more appealing than just a pile. Then, they pick them up, roll them around, eventually squish them and start playing with the dough. BTW, we made your ice wreath this week and posted some pics and your link on our blog. Thanks for the great idea!

  • Reply
    Emma @ paintsandpuddles
    January 28, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    Like Lindsay, when my son was little I used to present it already made into shapes – little balls, long wiggly ropes, big fat sausages, etc. (nothing fancy). The balls are stacked lego style, ropes tend to get pulled apart, sausages squished in our house! He never seemed to care about diving right in there and getting his hands messy.

  • Reply
    Mickey S
    January 28, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    I have a theory about children not wanting to touch certain things. It is a deeply rooted safety reflex. Cellular Safety is not a good thing to over ride in my opinion. Wanting my children to honour their very own opinions and intuition and instincts is key to health and happiness later in life. I think it is one of the reasons so many people can be sold unnecessary stuff . . . aka the corporate agenda.
    I can start with innocently tossing little children up in the air. They are being taught even with that little gesture to over-ride their fear and trust some one else. I think getting children to over ride their instincts about poking play dough no matter how pretty or nice smelling it is is a bad idea in the long run.
    There you have it! My two Canadian cents (sense?) worth!
    Keep on Arting and Blogging. I enjoy how unpretentious your blog is!
    Cheers from Mickey Smeele on Vancouver Island

  • Reply
    Mickey S
    January 28, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    I re-read my comment and spotted the !! typo !! of the word “I” instead of “it” in the beginning of the sentence about tossing children innocently up in the air . . . Sorry ’bout that.
    Must eat breakfast soon I think!

  • Reply
    January 28, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    I introduced play dough to my daughter (20-month old) just a couple of months ago, like many other art-related activities. And this is because she was (and still is at times) one of those kids who can’t get enough of exploring with their mouths. I don’t think there is a thing she hasn’t tasted, started from bugs..(really: could I be with my eyes on her every single second, even at home?) It was frustrating for me because I wanted her to enjoy crayons, paint, play dough and all the wonderful things art is so full of. Of course I didn’t know one could make perfectly safe play dough at home! (I learned this along with many other things from this forum: thank you!).
    So, back to our first experiences with play dough: the very first time she didn’t quite know what to do with it. She would poke it with her fingers and smear it against the table (and NO, she is definitely not intimidated by it.. I think some children love to get their hands dirty, others not so much). Then, I prompted her with “Let’s make pizza”, or a basket of fruit, or some other food. And she was enthusiastic! But still, I make the “shapes” (balls of “cheese”, “tomatoes”, “apples”, etc) and she just smashes them in her play dough lump (aka “pizza dough”, “basket”). She won’t actually knead the play dough herself or make shapes.
    This is mostly without any tools. One time I got a safe plastic knife and started cutting pieces out of a long caterpillar, and she liked that. She started trying to do the same, and could actually get a few pieces off herself. But she didn’t ask for that again, so I thought of leaving it off for now.
    This blog is fantastic, so full of information, ideas and different experiences. Thanks so much Jean!

  • Reply
    January 28, 2011 at 11:53 pm

    have you heard of Fun Doe? it’s a play dough that you can bake into cookies. that might entice the kids!

  • Reply
    Julie Liddle, ART IN HAND
    January 29, 2011 at 12:43 am

    I should clarify… I give them each a mixing tool for the process of making the playdough, as well as measuring cups and spoons. But once the playdough is ready, we clear the area of the tools and let them explore the dough with their hands for a while before introducing a few tools. We have limited time, and I often regret having to introduce the tools at all…but they do love them, and I like to show the moms the value of “open-ended” tools as opposed to the more commercial tools and themed kits they may be more familiar with. And I talk to the moms about the value of spending time without the tools…for the stimulation to the brain that the sensory experience provides; how it helps the children to learn the properties of the medium and its (and their) capabilities (to poke, pull, stretch, squeeze, etc.) and the benefits to the muscles in their hands for building strength necessary for fine motor skills later, such as writing/drawing. That being said, of course we never force a child to touch the playdough who is not yet comfortable doing so, but observing paves the way (or a ball of playdough inside a baggie often does the trick as mentioned the other day).

  • Reply
    February 1, 2011 at 8:38 am

    Hi Jean! Just wanted to chime in and say that while I sympathize with your difficulties, it’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one. I have the EXACT same issue with my 14 month old with just about anything I set in front of her that’s “art related”. If we’re baking cookies, she wants to dig and play in the dough/batter (I love this batter b/c it’s totally safe when unbaked and has amazing texture. Just omit honey and cacao nibs. She actually scraped all the remaining batter out of the bowl I was using, explored the texture of the oats, and enthusiastically tasted it for about 5-8 minutes straight.
    If I set playdough in front of her, she plays with for about 2 seconds before abandoning it. If I try to do fingerpainting, she’ll do about a minute of playing with it, then want to go to something else. If I set her in front of the kitchen sink, she’ll play with a pot of water and a big spoon for about 10 minutes. ::shrugs::
    I think she’ll enjoy playdough and other art activities eventually, and I’m going to continue trying (we’re doing Maryann Kohl’s “clean mush” this week). My current theory is that since she doesn’t have a grasp of shapes yet, playdough is actually a little “advanced” since she doesn’t have a good grounding in how to shape something that’s shapeless and that isn’t as easy to play with as water.
    Best wishes, and thanks for a fabulously inspiring blog.

  • Reply
    MaryAnn F. Kohl, art book author
    September 22, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    If you get tired of Daphne, may I have her? She is soooooo cute!!!!

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