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Want to talk with your preschooler about race in an age-appropriate way? Make a batch of this simple skin tone playdough and get the conversation started!
A few weeks ago, after reading It’s Okay to be Different by Todd Parr with my son, I had the idea of creating playdoh people to talk about race and differences while we played together. I set out to find flesh-toned playdough at the store and was sorely disappointed. They had black and “peach” but I wanted to show all the different tones, not just some generic colors.
Then I searched the internet. I found some instructions for making flesh tones with food coloring (it took FOREVER) or making skin colors with kitchen spices (for some reason I didn’t think giving chili powder playdough to my child was a good idea. I imagined hands rubbing eyes followed by tears and screams…not the fun bonding experience I was looking for.)
So, I set off to make my own version. It’s so simple, it’s practically fool-proof!
How to Make Simple Skin Tone Playdough
Simple Skin Tone Playdough Recipe
1 cup of flour
1/2 cup of salt
2 teaspoons Cream of Tartar (found in the spice section of most grocery stores)
1 cup of water
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
Skin tone food coloring
Where can I find Skin Tone Food Coloring?
I used Sunny Side Up Bakery Squeeze Color Gel, I got them for $1.99 each at Hobby Lobby. If you don’t have a Hobby Lobby nearby, this gel food coloring set has enough colors to make all the colors of the rainbow and then some!
- Mix together all the dry ingredients in a medium-sized pot. Then, dd in the water and vegetable oil. If you are only making one color of playdough, you can add in the food coloring now. If you would like to make several colors, wait until the end to add food coloring.
- Place the pot on medium-low heat, stirring constantly. If you stop stirring, the playdough will begin to stick and burn.
- Keep stirring the playdoh until it forms a ball and is no longer sticky.
- If you are using several colors, divide the playdoh into sections and form each section into a ball. Make a dip inside the ball and add in a few drops of food coloring and then begin to knead them in. Repeat until the desired color is achieved. (Tip: Wear gloves if you are dying the playdoh this way so that you don’t end up with rainbow-colored hands :))
- Let your playdough cool until it’s comfortable to touch.
- Play and have meaningful conversations…more about those below.
What can I do with skin tone playdough?
- Create people! Make your family, friends, neighbors, famous people, etc.
- Decorate faces! We used these free printable playdough mats
- Have great conversations about race and diversity. (If you aren’t sure how to do that, just keep reading!)
How to use skin tone playdough to talk with kids about race
Here’s the thing, you could do this activity and have a great time making playdough people, laughing with your kids while destressing and call it a day. OR you could also intentionally talk about the skin tones and differences of your playdough people to make the experience even more meaningful. Here are some conversation starters:
While making the playdough ask:
Did you notice how all the different colors had the same ingredients?
The only reason that they look different now is because of the color we added at the end. People are kind of like that too, we all have the same ingredients inside but the colors we show on the outside determine how we look and how we are perceived.
While playing with the playdough ask:
- Which color looks most like your skin?
- Did you notice how none of our people look the same? Why do you think that is?
- Do you know anyone who has this color of skin (choose a color that doesn’t look like yours)? Have you ever wondered why they have that color of skin?
***Whether your child answers yes or no, be prepared to give a factual answer, Here is my go-to answer (in case you need one):
Their ancestors (or great-great-grandparents for little guys who aren’t ready for the word ancestor) lived somewhere warm and so they needed extra melanin in their skin to protect them from the sun. Everything about us, our skin color, eye color, hair, etc are all gifts passed down from our ancestors to remind us of them.
What do I do if my child makes racist comments?
You’re playing along and all of the sudden your child says “Mommy don’t use that color! It’s yucky!”
Yes, your eyes may bug out of your head a little and while you try to keep your jaw from hitting the ground. You will think, where did my sweet, innocent child get such a horrible idea…
Take a deep breath. It’s OK. This comment is actually a very good thing. Your child is processing messages he or she has seen or heard. This is a beautiful, albeit, uncomfortable teaching moment. Here’s how to get through it:
Step 1: Listen, don’t scold.
Instead of saying “We don’t say that!!!” and ending the conversation, find out more. Ask:
- Why do you think that color is yucky?
- Has someone told you this color is yucky?
- Which color do you prefer? Why do you think that is?
Step 2: Teach
After a little exploration, head back to the go-to answer above to explain race in children’s terms. Skin color is just what we see on the outside, inside we are all made up of the same ingredients. No color is yucky or bad, it is just a color, a story to remind us of our ancestors. Each of us is unique because all of our stories are unique.
If your child doesn’t seem to know why he or she prefers one color over another, that is OK too. Children begin to notice race as early as six months. Media and culture teach us that one color is preferable to another and kids pick up on that without you ever saying a word.
Please hear this: Your child preferring one skin tone to another doesn’t mean you failed as a parent. It also does not mean your child is racist. This means that you need to have these conversations. It means its time to teach your child what to believe about race, instead of letting the world do it for you.
Want some help talking to kids about race? Download the FREE Talking to Kids about Race Ebook for more activities and talking points.