This Mom’s New Take on Playdough Can Help Teach Special Needs Students

Having bonded with her daughter by making homemade scented playdough, one stay-at-home-mom is sharing her recipe for creative and educational fun.

Naming the product ZDough after her four-year-old daughter, Zadie, Kira Rama hopes to create something that would be fun for everyone no matter their age.

“[ZDough] appeals to me by bridging my work as an educator and a mom wanting to have good play experiences for my daughter,” the former special education teacher said. Rama sees the dough as a way for children to develop fine motor skills while adults can relieve stress with its smooth texture and soothing scents.

Using a combination of essential oils, spices, and baking flavors, the unique scent of each ZDough variety lasts months and adds a new sensory experience to the traditional fun of molding the dough.

With new scents appearing each season on her Etsy shop, Rama is currently offering a special Christmas ZDough set as a personalized gift for the child or child at heart. Though made from “food-grade ingredients,” the dough is not recommended for eating. Special orders, including unscented varieties and different shades of color, are available upon request.

zdough crafting

ZDough’s special scent provides additional sensory development for special needs children. | Photo: ZDough

Rama regularly updates the ZDough website with craft ideas and photos of children immersed in their clay creations.With word spreading through blogs and social media, subscription gift service Mom ‘n Tot Box will begin offering ZDough in the upcoming year.  Though the company continues to expand, Rama hopes that she will continue to make ZDough herself.

“It’s been a big learning experience for me, but I don’t want to get to far away from actually having my in hands in playdough because I like the process of making it,” said Rama.

The married mother began making ZDough two years ago as a rainy day activity to share with her daughter. Both of them loved the challenge of perfecting the dough and coming up with new scents, but it wasn’t until the enthusiastic response of friends and family that Rama realized their hobby could become a viable business.

“I had been tinkering a lot with the recipe and Zadie was happy to play with all my cast offs and experiments. After making it for a couple of months, I decided to throw myself into it and turn [ZDough] into a real business,” Rama said.

The young family has moved often due to her husband’s training to become a psychiatrist, a factor that contributed to Rama deciding to be a stay-at-home mom and small business owner. Though she originally saw ZDough as a creative outlet that would give her the work-life balance she was looking for, Rama said building the company has been a learning experience for her as a first-time entrepreneur.

“This is really a one woman show,” Rama said. “I make every batch myself by hand and I also make it to order.” But growing her business is a “personal challenge” Rama says she enjoys.

kira rama and daughter zadie

Kira Rama, above, worked with her daughter Zadie to produce the dough and its variety of scents. While business booms, Rama wishes to remain involved in ZDough’s production. | Photo: ZDough

As a parent with an appreciation for good design, Rama learned upon the birth of her daughter to balance her home to reflect both her tastes and the needs of a growing child. The carefully designed packaging for ZDough is similarly intended to be fun for kids and aesthetically pleasing for adults.

“I really wanted the metal tin with a plastic lid that you can see through,” she explained. “It’s enticing for kids because you can see the really vibrant colors. But it’s also neat and sleek-looking.”

Rama and her daughter are “in on the fun” when they make ZDough for themselves. But maintaining the consistency of the dough means that Zadie is not as involved with producing it for customers. However, the four-year-old continues to inspire Rama through her creative use of her namesake product. Zadie began taking apart the ZDough packaging. She pops out the plastic disc to use as a cutting wheel or flatten out the dough while using the metal ring like a cookie cutter.

“I never would have come up with this and I thought this is such a good idea. You already have toys built into the packaging and it’s totally safe,” said Rama.

Rama said that she brings ZDough to family get-togethers. Though the adults initially often see it as something to entertain the kids, she says that eventually “everybody is playing with it because ultimately it’s fun.”

“I love that [ZDough] is just infinitely open to however you want to use it, aside from eating handfuls of it,” said Rama with a laugh.

Mariana Barillas is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow her on Twitter @mvbarillas.