This week I’ve seen a flurry of postings on social media from crafty moms offering recipes for pumpkin spice play dough. I do love the texture of home-made play dough. In fact, I included a basic play dough recipe in Chapter 6 of my book, Creating a Beautiful Mess: Ten Essential Play Experiences for a Joyous Childhood. But pumpkin spice? Is this just a latte-inspired trend or will this really benefit children? As an early childhood educator, I have to wonder if adding spices to the dough will enhance the child’s play experience. My scholarly answer: Maybe. Maybe not.
I have a confession to make. When I was a preschool teacher I sometimes mixed a little peppermint extract into the children’s play dough. I enjoyed the way it made the classroom smell sweet and fresh. The children often commented on how much they liked the smell too, but the addition of the peppermint extract didn’t really change the way they played with the dough. They still made pizzas and snakes and snowmen and all their usual doughy creations.
I suppose adding pumpkin pie seasoning to play dough would create a similar experience. The room would take on the scent of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. A pleasant smell, indeed, but I have to question whether a pumpkin spice scent has as much meaning to the children as it does to the adults. Adults are probably more likely to associate the pumpkin spice smell with the changing seasons and the fall holidays. Most young children have not yet had much experience with fall traditions or with pies in general. I also wonder if the pumpkin spice scent might encourage children to eat the play dough instead of play with it.
In contrast to the smell of pumpkin spice, the manufactured product called “Playdoh” that is sold in stores has a very distinct smell that’s hard to describe but easy to recognize. The Playdoh smell is slightly sweet but it certainly does not smell like delicious food. Most children easily understand that Playdoh is not for eating, probably because of the way it smells. However, young children who are handed a soft patty of home-made pumpkin spice play dough, fresh and warm from your mixing bowl, may be a little confused about whether this substance is for eating or for playing. Now, taking a bite of homemade play dough won’t cause any harm and children will soon discover that play dough is very salty and not sweet at all. But children may need an explanation from adults about how to use (and not eat) their pumpkin spice play dough.
To the parents who post pumpkin spice play dough recipes online I say: If adding a pumpkin spice scent to your child’s play dough will bring you pleasure and make you more eager to play with your child – then go for it! But to the rest of the world I would say that plain old play dough, store bought or home made, will probably make your child just as happy.
To read about the secret ingredients behind the scent of Playdoh, visit this Wired article titled “What’s Inside: Playdoh”