My three-year-old daughter keeps a much busier social schedule than I do. She is invited to a birthday party at least twice a month. She loves these celebrations with her friends and has been planning her own birthday party – which isn’t until April – for months already. But the birthday gift is always something of a dilemma. What gift to give? How much should I spend? Do I let my preschooler choose the gift for each friend? Or should I just stockpile a bunch of gifts in advance so I am not constantly making runs to the toy store? Should I consult the lead-free toy list before I shop? And when I look around my cluttered playroom, I can’t help but think that these kids definitely don’t need more toys anyway.

Next time your preschooler is invited to a birthday party, skip the trip to the toy store and take the opportunity to teach your little one the value of a homemade gift. Homemade play dough is simple to make and kids have as much fun making the dough as they do playing with the finished product.

You can experiment with the many different recipes for play dough available on the internet (including pumpkin spice play dough!). Here is a good basic recipe to get started:

  • 1 cup of all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of cream of tartar
  • 1 cup of water (dough may take some additional water)
  • 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil
  • Food coloring (alternative: natural colorings such as beet or spinach juice)
  • Mix all of the ingredients together in a pot over low heat on the stove until a dough forms (I let my little ones do the measuring and I stir the pot on the stove). Let the dough cool. Knead and add desired coloring. Store in an airtight container. I often double or even triple this recipe.

To package the gift, include two or three different colors of play dough in re-sealable containers. Throw in some plastic cookie cutters of the letters in the birthday boy’s name, dinosaurs, animals, numbers, or other shapes (this container of 100 plastic cookie cutters will last through lots of birthday parties!). Include a little rolling pin for more creative play options. Don’t forget to copy the recipe for homemade play dough onto an index card so the recipient can make their own batch (let your child decorate the recipe card with her own artwork for a personal touch).

This homemade gift has something for everyone. Your child gets to create the play dough (which is a fun activity itself) while also learning the value of making a gift for a friend (rather than watching mom buy one). You save money while spending quality time working on a project with your little one. And the birthday boy gets a gift that stands out from the pile of standard toy-store fare.

What homemade gifts do you make with your kids?