ChildForum Office of Pre-Primary Education

ChildForum Office of Pre-Primary EducationLead advisor on early childhood care and education 
National membership 

Publisher of the New Zealand-International Research in Early Childhood Journal


What's all the Fuss About Playdough?

© ChildForum

Playing with playdough is an everyday occurrence at most ECE services, but the humble pastime has hit the news this week with suggestions that playdough and other food based play ideas are culturally insensitive.

The debate is not new - it is revived every few years and has been around for at least the past 30 years.  

This week's debate was sparked by an idea posted on Facebook about painting with the end of a celery stick. Some questioned whether this was a suitable activity and the debate soon spread to many similar things such as using potatoes to print and making necklaces out of pasta.

Many ECE services (and parents at home) use recipes for playdough that require ingredients such as flour and salt, which theoretically is edible even though anyone who has tried it will probably testify that you would not choose to eat it.

Some ECE services restrict their use of food for playing because it is "bad tikanga" and considered culturally insensitive to Maori.

Another reason for not using food in play is that many families cannot afford decent meals.

A difficulty for ECE services on tight budgets though is that the cost of flour to make playdough, for example, may work out to be a lot cheaper than buying commercially produced playdough, plasticine, or clay.  

While clay and other natural replacements are a good idea, these are still not the same as the playdough that many adults have gown up with.  

Some services chose to use flour that is past its used-by-date and/ or keep flour and foods that are used for play separate.

A concern that is less often discussed is hygiene, and what germs may be transmitted via playdough that is touched and/or nibbled on.

Should children be asked to wash and dry their hands before playing with playdough?  Should it be re-used for different groups of children and made fresh perhaps only once a week or every day?  

The Education Ministry has no explicit regulations around using food as a tool for play so it is up to individual services to decide if and when they use food as part of play and learning through play.

Are you interested in joining us? 
Become a member and also gain access to our significant online knowledge base 

Membership Options


Who is this for?
Ideal for parents, students, teachers, researchers, teacher educators, policy analysts and children's specialists.
$98.00 12 months from the date of joining
or for students $60.00 short-term 6 month access.
Your own personal username and password.

ECE Service 
Group Membership

Who is this for?
A service that has licenced one or more ECE services with the Ministry of Education (including home-based, parent, and teacher-led).
Starting from $198.00. Provides 12 months membership from the date of joining.
A shared username and password for your service group.

NZ-International Research in
ECE Journal Subscription

Who is this for?
Libraries, universities, polytechnics and organisations wishing to have access to the NZIRECE published journal and its articles.
$150.00 annual renewable in November each year.
A username and password or IP address access.