There are a few vendors who sell gluten-free modeling dough. One company sells a soy based dough. Several sell ultra light weight petroleum based doughs (those are available in most big discount stores) that allow for modeling. Still others sell specialty doughs on sites like Etsy.
There are issues with each of these items.
Some have strong fragrances. It seems to me to be a bad idea to make a product for preschoolers that smells like fruit, is colored like fruit and yet is not edible. So I wanted something that did not smell or at least did not smell strongly or like food.
Some are full of dyes. I don’t really have an issue with food grade dyes used in play dough since its not meant to be ingested and it tastes bad, but again, if it smells good then the odds that it will get eaten rise.
Some have essential oils. Some essential oils are benign, others trigger allergies and there are a few that should not be ingested by anyone ever. Again, if the product is being handled by someone who knows not to eat it…great. If the product is to be used by disabled three year olds…
Some are really really expensive – I realize that the costs of special needs can numb a person out, but I struggle with paying $20 for four containers of modeling dough.
Some are hard to model – Several brands are actually clay. Its a workout for my middle aged hands. I imagine it would be incredibly frustrating for a preschooler with low tone and ADD.
So the answer ends up being that I need to make my own.
The following recipe is not mine. It is from the Celiac Disease Foundation which oddly has taken it down from their site so I cannot do the polite thing and link to it. It is very inexpensive and easy. I did not want to just put a link back to the original site because I don’t think that the instructions work well as written. So I kept the ingredients and altered the instructions.
Here are my warnings.
When you cook play dough you need to hover and stir constantly, and its not so much stirring as it is scraping the bottom of the pot constantly and all over. Its a lot like cooking scrambled eggs. The bottom needs to be pulled up constantly with a spatula.
You can add the coloring later but for an even shade, you want to add the dye to the water. Otherwise you will be kneading forever to get the color even in the dough. It ends up being marbleized.
It darkens as it cooks. What looks like a pale blue when cool in the pot becomes much more intense after cooking
For a bright color use paste coloring. You may need to go to a craft store to get it.
If you don’t have a gas burner, turn the heat off as soon as the dough really starts to thicken. Its a lot like gluten-free pasta. Do not wait until its fully cooked to take it off the heat. The residual heat will finish the process.
1/2 cup rice flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup salt
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 cup cool water
1 teaspoon baby oil
Food coloring, if desired
Mix all ingredients in a pot with a heavy bottom. Turn on the heat to medium low. Scrape the bottom constantly as the dough cooks. When it appears to be mostly cooked (the runny liquid is almost gone and all on the bottom of the pot), turn off the heat and finish stirring until the dough could be molded into a ball. Once it cools enough to handle, knead the dough until the color and texture are even and the dough is cooled.
Seal the dough in an airtight plastic bag or small plastic container. Its a bit more rubbery than wheat based doughs but will soften right up with handling.