Playdough can be found in every preschool classroom and usually in the home too. It can be bought or it can be made easily out of just 3 or 4 basic ingredients. Children love playdough. It is soft, squishy and they can make anything out of it. Perhaps what makes it so appealing is that it is relaxing and therapeutic.
When a child moulds with playdough, the experience is always positive. There is no right or wrong way to do it so they always feel success with their creations.
Playdough lets children use their imagination and strengthens the small muscles in their fingers—the same muscles they will one day use to hold a pencil and write. Using playdough with you, a friend, or siblings supports your child’s social skills such as sharing, taking turns, and enjoying being with other people. Playdough also encourages children’s language and literacy, science, and math skills—all at the same time!
Playdough play at home or school supports development and learning in many areas. When children use playdough, they explore ideas and try different approaches until they find one that works. They compare and contrast objects ("Mine’s a big pancake and yours is small”), actions ("No, don’t cut it! Scrape it, like this”), and experiences ("We’re not making a snake—we’re making a road”). In their experimenting, children come up with their own ideas, satisfy their curiosity, analyze and solve problems. These are all skills that help children learn and succeed in their life.
Let us take a look closer at the power that playdough can bring to your child’s learning and development:
Fine motor skills
While poking, rolling, and squishing playdough, children develop the small muscles in their fingers and hands. They use hands, fingers, and tools to pound, push, poke, shape, flatten, roll, cut, and scrape. Manipulating the dough helps children to strengthen fine motor skills and enhance hand-eye coordination. Developing strength, control, and dexterity in the little muscles of a child’s hands and fingers will help them out as they learn to control a pencil for writing or drawing, or learn to cut with scissors and manipulate other tools.
Social and emotional development
Creating with playdough lets children feel competent ("I’m good at rolling the dough”) and proud of their accomplishments ("Hey, I made a dog”). Pounding, flattening, and squeezing are healthy and safe outlets for extra energy. During playdough time at school, children talk about what they’re making and how.
Re-create this atmosphere at home by inviting siblings or playmates and including yourself in the play. Make comments about their work ("You cut it again”). Ask questions so children can describe and think about what they are doing ("What does this do?”). Connect their play to the real world ("Can you make a red tomato? A green one might not be ripe”). Teach cooperation ("I can help you to make your car”), and observe and compare actions ("I’m rolling my dough too”). Interactions like these contribute to development and learning.
Creativity and imagination
With playdough, young children express their ideas through art and make-believe play. At the same time, they learn symbolic thinking by pretending that the playdough is something else. While manipulating playdough, your child might pretend to make tortillas, dumplings, or pizza, or create alligators, airplanes, or often make detailed playdough creations. With one or more friends, they may imagine themselves to be construction workers building a highway or pastry chefs baking and selling cookies, cupcakes, and donuts at a bakery. You can join in their pretend play too!
Language and literacy
Through playdough play at home, children practice listening to and talking with friends, siblings, and adults. Materials like playdough help children build their vocabulary as they explain what they are doing.
Children use language to invent stories about their playdough creations. You may notice your child using facts or ideas from books you have read together. Children also refer to things they did or saw in their everyday lives ("This is a burger like we had at lunch”).
These types of experiences help children learn new words and communicate their thoughts and ideas effectively— skills they will need when they learn to read and write in the primary school.
Young children learn about science through hands-on experiences. They learn by observing, thinking, and talking about how materials feel and how they change. You can encourage scientific thinking. Provide sawdust or sand to add to the playdough and then talk about how this new kind of dough looks and feels. Introduce words like texture, grainy, smooth, and lumpy.
Your child might declare, "I’m making this flat!” as she pushes down on playdough with the palm of her hand. Or she may say, "I’m making it soft,” as she adds water to dry playdough to make it more pliable. When you ask, "What do you think would happen if we added too much water?” you are helping her understand the scientific concept of cause and effect.
While working with playdough, children note changes in shape and size as they comment on, compare, and contrast the objects they make ("I made a triangle” and "Mine is a tiny ball and yours is big”). Ask your child to count how many pieces she is making or to arrange her creations by size or color. Encourage mathematical thinking by asking, "What shape is that?” “Which snake is longer?” or “How many pieces do you have now?”
These play experiences encourage children to practice counting, learn about shapes (geometry) and how they relate to each other (spatial sense), and practice sorting and classifying. Such mathematical ways of thinking prepare children for learning more complex math concepts in the coming years.
Playdough is indeed a powerful learning tool for your child’s learning and development and another point to consider is that you can make it with your child at home. Take a look at the playdough recipe below and have a try at home.
Simple Playdough Recipe
What you need:
1 cup water
6 cups flour
1 cup vegetable oil
Mix water and food coloring in bowl
Add flour and oil
Knead until smooth
Variations: For the first step, children can add a few drops of food coloring in the water and watch the colour spread. You can also show them what new colours are formed if they mix different colours together.
Note: Dough can be reused; store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.
Around-the-House Additional Playdough Props:
leaves, twigs, pebbles
plastic knives, forks, and spoons
rolling pin or bottle
small toy people and animals