The benefits of playing with playdough

Playdough can be found in every early childhood classroom as it is a favourite amongst young children.  When a child plays with playdough the experience is always positive as there is no right or wrong way to do it so they feel success with their creations.  What is it that makes this wonderful substance such a valuable resource in the early childhood setting and what do children learn while playing with it?

Playing with playdough is a highly educational activity and through this play children learn and build many foundational skills.

1. Fine Motor Development

When given playdough children are motivated to explore its soft and responsive sensory qualities. When they squish, roll, flatten, shape, squeeze, poke , score or cut playdough they develop and strengthen their hand muscles. This skill can be developed even further with the use of cutters, plastic knives and a rolling pin.  Working playdough with their hands develops the child’s large and small muscles and aids eye-hand coordination. Children need to develop their finger muscles and have proper finger control before they can learn to write at school.

2. Imagination & Creativity

When children work with playdough, they basically have a blank canvas waiting to be moulded into something unique.  Playdough provides your children with unlimited possibilities of moulding the dough encouraging your children to use their imagination and thus inspiring their creativity. They mould from an image they hold mentally.   If your children uses other tools such as rolling pins, shapes, scissors and other tools and objects such as beads, buttons, shells their creativity can be expanded.

3. Vocabulary

As children work on their playdough creations they form new ideas and concepts.  They will learn new words such as squeeze, roll, flatten, shape, cut etc as well as words describing what they are making.  If they are sitting with peers their vocabualrly will increase as they chat and mould their creations.  As parents and teachers verbalise what they are doing their vocabulary will continue to grow.

4. Literacy and Numeracy

With the guidance of an adult children can learn to make playdough from a basic recipe.  This is a great opportunity to teach your child some Maths by learning about measurement.  They also learn about reading information for meaning, such as recipe instructions.

Adding small objects such as beads or buttons can provide a great opportunity to learn about number concept, as well as activities such as using a biscuit cutter to make multiple shapes out of the playdough.  In more focused play, playdough can be used as a fantastic way to practise letter and number work.  Other number work can include comparing lengths/thicknesses/weights and counting rolled balls to match numeral cards.  They can match and sort by colour, shape or size and they can form 2D and 3D shapes.

Children can form letters of the alphabet.  By using playdough they can roll long “snakes” and shape them into letters with an adult’s guidance, thus learning letter formation in a kinesthetic way.  This is a great way to teach children to write their name.  When teaching children to write they must start by playing with large letters or forming them in the sandpit, drawing with chalk on the cement or using playdough.  They are not ready to hold a pencil and learn small letter formation until they develop these muscles.

5. Science and Discovery

The actual art of making the playdough can lead to lots of questioning and prediction skills.   The texture of playdough can be changed by experimenting with varying the ingredients or adding water to make it harder, softer, more watery etc.  Here we have some solid materials (flour, salt etc) to which we are going to add some liquids (oil, water).  What do you think will happen?  What can we make?

Your child gets to explore and observe the changing state of materials in a hands-on way, and be filled with wonder as the bowl of unrelated ingredients comes together to form a sticky then smooth and
squishy ball of dough. We often take these things for granted, but in the eyes of a child that’s quite some

Other substances such as sand, water and glitter can also be mixed and experimented with in a similar way.

6. Concentration

Playdough is a quiet activity that requires a child to sit still for periods of time. This is great for lengthening a child’s concentration span over time.

The more involved they are in what they are making, the longer they will push themselves to stay focused. As children develop a sense of perseverance they will also concentrate until their creation looks the way they want it to look, making changes until it is just right.

7. Therapeutic Value

Playdough is an activity which children always have a positive experience with,  The very nature of the substance makes it calming to play with.  The activity is relaxing and highly therapeutic.  It can reduce stress and is a wonderful medium for an anxious child.

Little children can struggle to express their emotions and using dough while talking and singing can really help that process.  It’s perfect to set up after nap time or after a long day at Kindy can really help kids to unwind.

Playdough Recipe

Basic Playdough

This is a very basic, quick dough that is easy to make

1 cup water
6 cups flour
1 cup vegetable oil 
Food colouring

Mix a drop or two of food colouring in the water (watch how it mixes with the water) and add the flour and vegetable oil.  Knead until the mixture is smooth.  Store in the refrigerator in a sealed container.

Basic Salt Playdough

2 cups flour
½ cup salt
2 teaspoons oil
2 teaspoons food colouring

Mix the ingredients together, adding the water slowly until the mixture is smooth.  Store in a sealed container.

Cooked Playdough

1 cup flour
2 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 cup salt
1 tbsp cooking oil Olive oil or vegetable oil
1 cup water
food colouring

  1. In a large bowl, combine all of your dry ingredients (flour, salt, cream of tartar) and mix well.
  2. Mix food coloring with your water first. Then add the vegetable oil and water with food coloring to a large pot. Mix together.
  3. Add the dry ingredients to your pot and mix well
  4. Cook over low to medium heat until the dough starts to form and becomes dry.
  5. Once it starts to form a ball together and looks fully cooked, take off the heat. Let the dough cool first before touching.
  6. Once cool, knead the dough for 5 minutes to make the dough soft.

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