The science behind playdough..

Playdough is something that I used to love playing with as a child because it is so flexible and you can make and do so many things with it. Also, my year’s work in a nursery made me see what opportunities you have to link playdough into learning, especially with playdough mats like this one.

Playdough mats can be really educational to children and can link into whatever theme your class is doing if you use the right ones!

Therefore when we were asked to do a two minute science demonstration for one of our university classes, playdough shaped bells started ringing in my head thinking – how can I relate playdough to science? Turns out it was not actually that difficult to find out how playdough and science is related since playdough is actually a forced chemical reaction when you mix all the ingredients together. The recipe that I will ask my peers in the class to follow for making the playdough is from a fantastic website called The Royal Institution and the section I landed on took me straight to playdough making as well as other inventive ideas to get children more into science. They have videos too explaining what the activities consist of, questions to get the children thinking and children’s reactions to the activities.

So as the video explains the main purpose of having salt in the playdough is to form a matrix (the surrounding substance within which something else originates) around the flour particles when it has dried. Also, when the food colouring and the water are mixed they become a solution, which when adding oil to this it floats on the top of the solution because of the particles that are in oil. When the water has dried out and the mixture has been kneaded, it leaves the salt behind, which cements all the flour particles together making what we know of as playdough.

Each year group is different and obviously nursery aged children and P7’s will have different reasons for playing with playdough in class and speaking from experience the older children are the less interested they are in play dough and the more interested they are in playstations. Hopefully, if I do this experiment with a class of my own i’ll be able to make it age and stage appropriate and fun, because I think playdough is great fun! When I have done my experiment with my peers I will be sure to put up pictures and an evaluation of how my experiment went. Until then please add comments as to how you would use playdough in the classroom/nursery?

4 thoughts on “The science behind playdough..

  1. Richard Holme

    This is a great post – I would be really interested in how you would alter this for different ages/stages. I am guessing that this would be by varying the level of complexity in the conceptual explanation/understanding from simple physical reactions to the idea of properties of materials and on to chemical reactions. Density is another concept and this could be investigated alongside the other ideas.
    I am glad you found the RI – they are an amazing organisation – very well-known and influential – the Christmas Lectures are worth finding. I think a topic around the RI – and the history of science would be great!

    1. Katie Rebecca Whitham Post author

      Thank you! Yes the explanation and understanding of the playdough making is the main way I would make this activity age and stage appropriate for inside the classroom. I would perhaps gather the older children into groups and try adding or taking away ingredients to see what the difference is in the outcome to make the session a bit longer. Playdough is something I made on a weekly basis in nurseries and it did not take very long at all. Older children on average have a better attention span and could do 3 or 4 batches of playdough with different ingredients before they are bored. I think it also depends on what you do with the playdough after to make it age and appropriate. Something I would consider is bringing maths into the session by weighing different sizes of play dough once it has been made and start using it in other curriculum areas that way.
      Katie Rebecca

  2. Lauren Boath

    I hadn’t seen these videos before, really helpful to be pointed to them! One of the things I like about your idea is the opportunity to use something ‘simple’ to explore the learners’ understanding of scientific language e.g. solutions. Do you think you could use the making play dough as a starter to explore an aspect of chemistry in more depth with learners in P6/7 who are working beyond second level and into third?

    1. Katie Rebecca Whitham Post author

      Thank you for your comments Lauren, I am delighted you like my idea. I really enjoyed watching the videos too and think that their use in the classroom to show the children ideas would be great! I think making the playdough a starter into other aspects of the curriculum or further their science would be something I would do in the classroom with the children. It could become a really fun and fascinating topic where the children could learn a lot about different aspects of science.
      Katie Rebecca


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