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Playing with food

In The Little Red Hen we talk about the process of growing wheat, turning it into flour and baking bread. We encourage the children to get their hands on the grain, the flour and dough. It would be possible to do this with other food stuffs too as a way of exploring textures and consistencies. They can model in dough, draw in flour, finger paint in ketchup -simply explore the qualities of the substances or do more structured activity as they get older like weighing or measuring liquids. This helps child development in terms of vocabulary around different actions like squash or squeeze, fine motor skills and encouragement of mark making, and can stimulate conversations about how where our food comes from.

Good food to play with might include

Rice, pasta, spaghetti, flour, icing sugar, oats, salt, coffee, tea leaves, custard sauces, lentils, pulses

The addition of some simple basic tools can further enhance the exploration a basic tool kit might include:

Rolling pin, baking tray (for showing finished items), Plastic knives and forks for creating patterns, Plastic scissors, Garlic press, straws (for joining sections together) potato masher,  spatulas, pastry cutters ( I have a wooden wheel  that makes great zig- zag patterns)

Take care with regard to allergies, some flours have nut products in them, but it is possible to find wheat and gluten free products and care should be taken around hot and sharp objects


Modelling dough

Play dough can be bought or made at home relatively cheaply and the children can help to make the dough. Once made the only limitation on what can be done with the dough is the imagination. You can air dry your finished model or bake in a hot oven until hard and when cooled paint and varnish it.

Un-used dough should keep for some time in an air tight container in the fridge.

Why not try making farm animals or plates full of favourite foods. Join different shapes together with short lengths of straw or string if you put holes in the dough before it dries, to make models that move.

You could even make a set of salt dough dominoes and use them in a variety of maths based activities.


Here are some dough recipes which can be made with children of all ages.

Basic salt dough recipe
2 parts flour
1 part salt

Mix the flour and salt add water gradually until desired dough consistency is reached (too sticky? Add a little more flour, not smooth enough add a little more water) you can add food colouring, scent, glitter etc to the dough (don’t forget to check for allergies first).

Or you could try to following variants on the theme.


Salt Dough Recipe

16 Tablespoons of Plain White Flour
8 Tablespoons of Salt
16 Tablespoons of cold water

Mix the flour and the salt together and then stir in the water.  Knead the dough together adding small drops of extra water if necessary to make a smooth but not sticky dough. Once the dough has come together turn it out onto a flat surface and continue to knead it for about 10 minutes by which time the dough should be warm, soft and pliable.


Playdough Recipe

2 Cups of Plain Flour
½ Cup of Salt
1 Cup of water (with added colouring of your choice)
1 Tablespoon of cooking oil
1 Tablespoon of Hand Lotion

Mix flour and salt together add hand lotion, oil and water. Mix well and knead until dough is smooth.
(This is pliable pleasant-smelling dough which keeps well)


Drawing in flour

Sprinkle a layer of flour into a shallow seed tray or similar and spread it evenly. Use this to draw pictures, shapes, mathematical symbols or sums with your fingers. Then simply rub them out and start again.


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