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    Mindfulness Play dough: a mindful activity for children (and adults)

    Children of all ages can benefit from mindfulness; the simple act of slowing down to pay full attention to something can help with emotional regulation: relieving stress, anxiety, and frustration. Mindfulness has many other benefits including improved memory and focus. I’m starting off the Mindful Monday series with my favorite activity, Mindfulness Play Dough.

    I discovered this activity while taking a special education course. I wanted to find an interactive activity to start a class presentation with and stumbled across the idea of using play dough to teach children about mindfulness. 

    The reaction from the class (it was a mixed class of graduate and undergraduate students) really caught me off guard. They loved it! I was happily surprised at the positive reaction, and had to giggle inside when the undergraduates asked if they could keep their play dough. But seriously, who doesn’t love play dough? 

    For this exercise, you can use any play dough but I prefer homemade lavender-scented for ultimate calm. If you have never used homemade play dough, it is easy to make and has a soothing, soft texture. It is also easy to adapt with scents and textures. The following recipe is for lavender-scented play dough, but you can use whatever scented oil you prefer or no scent at all.

    Homemade Lavender-scented Play Dough

    This is the recipe my mom used to make play dough when I was young, with the addition of lavender essential oil for the scent.

    Recipe for Homemade Lavender-scented Playdough


    • 1 cup of flour
    • 1 cup of water
    • 2 tsp cream of tartar
    • ⅓ cup salt
    • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
    • Gel food coloring
    • Lavender essential oil


    1. Mix together the first 5 ingredients in a medium saucepan.
    2. Cook over low/medium heat, stirring. 
    3. When dough starts to thicken add the food coloring to get desired color (a few drops or red and blue make a nice lavender).
    4. Once the dough is not wet, remove and place on wax paper or plate to cool.
    5. Allow to cool for about 30 minutes, add one or two drops of lavender essential oil, and knead together for several minutes.
    6. Store in an airtight container.

    Mindfulness Play Dough: a mindful activity for kids (and adults)

    The following script can be used by a classroom teacher to introduce mindfulness to their students, in the school counselor’s or professional counselor’s office, as a fun at-home activity you can do with your own children, or as an exercise you do for yourself. If you try this as an activity for yourself, just follow along and adjust accordingly. 

    Today we are going to try a mindfulness exercise. This means we will be paying attention to our bodies, minds, and feelings. 

    Let’s begin by taking a deep breath in and slowly release it. As you breath in I will give you some play dough. 

    Don’t squeeze it yet; simply hold it in your hand while I explain what we will do with it. 

    Take another deep breath in, as you breathe in notice the smell of the play dough. What scents do you notice? Pay attention to the memories or pictures that enter your mind as you notice the smell of the play dough. 

    Notice the weight of the play dough in your hands. Notice the pressure in your palm. Notice the urge you have to squeeze the play dough. Where in your body do you feel that urge? What in your body is helping to fight the urge to squeeze it? 

    Breath in deeply, inhaling the scent of the play dough. Exhale slowly. Now, press one finger into the dough. Notice how it feels on your finger. Notice the temperature of the dough. Notice the texture. What sensations do you feel in your finger? 

    Remove your finger from the dough, and look at the hole your finger left. Focus on the hole, what does it look like? Can you see your fingerprint? 

    Roll the dough between your two palms. Pay attention to the sensations that both hands experience. Which hand feels the most pressure? Notice the texture between your hands. Gently squeeze the dough with one hand, and then form the dough into a ball. Hold it in one hand then gently press down with the other hand, flatting it slowly. As you press, release the tension that you feel in your hand. Pay attention to the feeling as you hold the flattened dough between your two hands. Pay attention to where you feel that feeling in your body. 

    Breathe in deeply and slowly exhale (3 times). 

    To get the full benefit of mindfulness practice, it is helpful to process your thoughts and feelings after completing the activity. For this exercise, some of the questions you could ask: What did it feel like to hold the play dough and not squeeze it? Where in your body did you feel the urge to squeeze it? How did you fight that urge? What thoughts or feelings came up for you when you smelled the play dough?

    Reach out if you are interested in incorporating mindfulness into an individual therapy plan.