Dads tend to have different play routines with their kids than moms do. That’s self-evident. Dads tend to do more physical activities – play ball, wrestle, maniacally chase their kids then tickle them to the point of near-vomiting. This is presumably due to a number of factors – socialization, gender roles, testosterone, etc. It’s also down to the fact that you tend to pursue play activities that you enjoy yourself. I’m forever taking my kids hiking and fossil collecting not because I think they are intensely into wandering around in the forest or sifting through Miocene sediments, but because I enjoy these activities myself. They like them too, but the truth is they’d probably rather be at home doing puzzles or playing with their toys, while being stuck inside the house gives me a raging case of the fidgets.
There are inevitably those rainy days, however, when you need to find something to do indoors. It’s tempting to fire up the DVD player and veg for a couple of hours, but that goes only so far and leaves me feeling vaguely guilty, like I’ve become one of those parents my wife and I derided before we had kids, the kind who let the cathode ray raise their children. In one episode of ‘The Simpsons,” Bart says to Homer: “It’s just hard not to listen to TV: it’s spent so much more time raising us than you have.” Funny in a cartoon, but conscience-gnawing in reality. So what to do when the weather keeps you inside and the day stretches before you in infinite plains of boredom?
My oldest son and I cook together a lot. He likes to measure things, stir mixes and, most notably, pound meat to a paper-thin pulp. Kids generally like to cook, with the added incentive of later eating those brownies or chocolate-chip cookies or whatever. Most recipes are fairly straightforward, and it is surprisingly easy to make most sweets from scratch. What I’d like to share today, however, is a different sort of recipe.
First of all, Play-Doh is cool. Ever since it was introduced as a wallpaper cleaner in the late 40’s, kids have found the soft modeling compound good for hours of fun. Unfortunately, it also tends to be expensive, and is forever being left out uncovered until it fossilizes, which happens surprisingly quickly. You can, however, make your own which is cheap, easy, and combines the appeal of cooking with the bonus of producing a sizeable quantity of high-quality squishy stuff.
It’s as simple as this. You’ll need:
- 2 cups (250 grams) flour
- 1 cup (128 grams) salt
- 2 cups (475 ml) water
- 2 tsp cream of tartar (this is the crucial ingredient)
- 1 tablespoon oil
- food coloring
Allow your child to measure and pour all the ingredients into a mixing bowl. If you don’t mind all one color, you can add food coloring now. If you want a variety of colors (and believe me, you’ll end up with a lot of a single color if you don’t) wait until the dough is finished then work it into the finished product. Stir until mixed.
Pour the mixture into a non-stick pan, and place over medium-low heat. Stir, or let your child do it, pretty much continuously. In a couple of minutes (it happens very quickly) the mixture will stiffen and start to look like dough. It’s done. Take it out and let it cool before working with it.
Couldn’t be easier. This dough is soft and pliable and oh so smooth. It works even better than the real thing in all of those extruding Fun Factory devices. Furthermore, it can be used to rescue that Play-Doh that is beginning to be stiff and friable. Just work in a bit of the homemade stuff, and you’re back in business.
As American families begin to rediscover the kitchen – once the focal point of the home – kids will learn the importance and joy of preparing healthy, home-cooked meals. Why not start with some healthy, home-cooked toys?