Playdough is such a fantastic medium for kids to play with, I can’t say enough about it to be honest. This blog will run you through some of my favourite uses for playdough, and how playdough can help with and reinforce learning.
The most obvious way in which playdough helps kids is through developing their fine motor skills. Rolling, squashing, hammering, cutting, kneading, pinching, using cutters – these are all activities which help strengthen children’s hands and develop those skills that are then used in everyday life for the rest of their life. Kids need strength in their hands to be able to use scissors, do buttons and laces, hold a pen or pencil, open and close lids and containers - the list goes on!
It’s very easy to expose your kids to shapes, colours and counting with playdough. Simply make up several batches of playdough in lots of different colours, starting with the primary colours first. While your kids are playing just weave in the colour of each set of dough to the play. “can you pass me some of the red playdough over there please” or “can I give you some of my yellow playdough and you give me some of your green please”. There is no need to teach them colours by drill or rote by pointing to the red and saying ‘red’ repeatedly – using it in normal conversation will bring results just as quickly and it is easier on the child’s self esteem. For shapes just use basic cookie cutter shapes and introduce them the same way as you did the colours. To introduce numbers and counting you could roll up lots of balls and count them, use number cutters and cut out shapes of each number. For older children have them match up the number of balls to the cut out numbers. This is all fun learning, it’s not forced and as long as done at developmentally appropriate stages your child will grasp concepts quickly without any stress.
Other great ways to use playdough is to use it as an extension method, to re-confirm something the child already knows. So you might have had a visit to an aquarium recently and the child is fascinated by all the creatures and learning lots about them. By laying out some playdough and pictures of sea creatures or ocean environments your children will naturally use the playdough to recreate what they know already and use it as a talking point and most kids will chat away about what they know as they are making their playdough sea creatures or ocean lands. Our stencils and rubbing plates are another great item to use here. This helps to cement learning, because the more ways we are exposed to a piece of information the more likely we are to retain it.
With most kids, playdough is also calming as their hands are very busy but their bodies are relatively still. So playdough is a great activity to bring out after some rough and tumble outdoor play, or after they’ve had an emotional moment. I find my kids are very calm and open to conversations whilst playing with dough, so I can often quiz them on something that might have recently upset them, find out how they are coping with a new activity at or outside of school, talk to them about big feelings – just don’t expect them to make eye contact, the reason it is a good medium for that is because their eyes and bodies are absorbed in the physical and their mind is free to think and respond without the stress of a proper intense conversation.
Another great thing about playdough is you bring in other items. So add playdough to some animal figurines and the kids can build habitats and homes for them, bring in some blocks and they can use the playdough as cement and build structures. Even adding things like buttons and paddle pop sticks will allow the kids to create whatever their imagination desires.
Getting in the Kitchen to make the playdough is also a great activity for the kids. Not only do they usually love it, but again it reinforces and exposes them to learning via measuring, pouring, mixing, counting, ingredients, colours.
The recipes I use are as follows.
2 cups plain flour
4 tbsp cream of tartar
1 cup salt
2 cups boiling water
2 tbsp olive oil
colouring of choice
Mix all dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Mix colouring and water and tip into dry ingredients. Mix well with a spoon or fork until combined then take out and knead on a bench or mat for appx 5 minutes.
*with this recipe I will often split it in half and do two half batches with a different colour in each as it makes quite a large amount.
I've also recently bought a Thermomix and the recipe I use in the Thermy is as follows:
1tbsp cream of tartar
250g plain flour
20g olive oil
colouring of choice
Place everything except flour and oil into the Thermomix and mix on speed 3 / 60c / 5 minutes.
Add flour and oil and mix on speed 4 for 40 seconds. Then switch to dough kneading for 1 minute.