When I think about my childhood one of the vivid memories is making homemade play dough with my grandmother. We would then play with the dough for hours and hours and weeks on end until it “got old” and we needed to make a new batch. Even though I had easy access to homemade play dough daily I was excited when I got to play with “real” (store-bought) Play-Doh in kindergarten. Now as an educator, I watch children playing with play dough and it becomes increasingly clear that children grow when they play with play dough whether they are a toddler or a 5th grader. Most of us would agree that playing with play dough is fun but what are the other reasons we should give kids access to the fun dough?
Creativity- Children can decide what they want to make, shape the dough as they want and choose the best ways to represent their ideas.
Stress relief Adults and children both tend to relax when playing with play dough. It can be a focused activity or one that can be done as your mind wanders.
Fine Motor Skills- Pinching, rolling, squeezing and shaping the dough builds strength in little hands and fingers. These are the muscles used for writing and cutting.
Math- describing, comparing, measuring, and sorting are all early math skills.
Vocabulary- As children play they use describing words, color words, texture words and even increase their vocabulary. As adults engage in play with children they can introduce new vocabulary words and concepts.
Imagination-The open-ended nature of playing with play dough seems to lead children to create their own play scenarios. Children might create a farm with various animals then “feed” their animals. They might create a meal from the play dough and ask a friend to “taste” their creation. We know that imaginative play is important in child development.
There are certainly many more benefits but I want to leave some room in my post for tips and recipes:
- Hasbro, the makers of Play-Doh, have some clean up tips. The also provide some fun lesson plans.
- The Imagination Tree blog has some fantastic ideas for substances that can be added to play dough such as popsicle sticks, straws, glitter, natural elements, etc. Really, your children’s imaginations are the only limit to what can be added to play dough. You can even use Barbie shoes to “walk” through your dough to leave foot prints.
- There are many, many great play doh recipes. Some are great for toddlers because they are edible. Some require no cooking. Some are scented or have different textures. Of course with all of these recipes, I always return to my favorite:
“Grandma Micki’s Less-Mess Play Dough”
2 ½ cups flour
1 cup salt
2 Tbsp. powdered alum (dissolved in 2 cups boiling water.)
3 Tbsp. oil
Mix flour and salt in a bowl. Add water/alum mixture and oil. Mix well. Divide the hot dough into portions and add color. Grandma Micki would do this by putting the food coloring in the middle of a ball of dough then kneading it while it was still warm. It works well to put the dough inside the Ziploc bag to knead it if you don’t want to have rainbow-colored hands.
Heather DeWit, Director of Childcare and Education Services
The YouTube video to follow from Hasbro Play Doh shows one of many creative ways a child could learn and play.