Playdough is one of those activities we can all remember doing at kindy. But have you ever wondered why it’s so popular? There are so many benefits of playdough for preschool age children. Here is why you need to make it for your child!
Playdough is my daughter’s favourite activity (followed closely by painting). And I love it too. It is cheap and easy to make, is full of endless possibilities for creative play and comes with a whole host of benefits for kids. There is a reason this is a perennial favourite with parents, teachers and the kids they care for.
I reference a few different types of skill and play in this post so if you need a quick refresher, take a look at the Preschool Terms to Know post and come back.
In this post you will:
- discover the physical benefits of playdough for your child
- find out about the literacy and numeracy related benefits
- learn how playdough can help children’s social skills
- look at a few ways to use playdough in your preschool
- get a basic no-cook playdough recipe to get you started having fun with playdough
The Physical Benefits of Using Playdough
Watch your child with playdough and you will quickly see they like to use it in lots of different ways. They squish it. They roll it. They pull it, cut it, shape it, and pat it down again.
All of this is helping to strengthen the muscles in your child’s hands and fingers.
Because there are so many different movements involved, you just know they are exercising a variety of muscles. This increased hand strength is important for a number of other areas.
Little kids need strong hands for using their cutlery properly at meals times. They need strong fingers for doing up the zips, buttons and laces on their shoes and clothes. And they need the muscles in their hands and fingers to be sufficiently developed before they have any chance of being able to correctly hold a pencil and write with it!
This makes playdough the perfect pre-writing activity for your child.
By providing a variety of materials to use with their playdough, you are able to give your child many ways to develop their fine motor skills and enhance their hand-eye co-ordination. Try containers to squeeze the dough into, small twigs to poke into the dough or maybe some shells or stones to hide inside.
Providing your child with playdough and those extras like I just mentioned also provides your children with a wonderful sensory experience. They can discover shapes, smells and textures through their play.
Other items you can try adding include cookie cutters, a plastic or bamboo knife and a rolling pin. This will help with gross motor skill development, using those bigger muscles in their arms and upper body to push the dough or the utensils. Adding scissors to a playdough kit is another firm favourite and will also help make cutting paper much easier for your child to master.
The Benefits of Playdough on Literacy Development
The physical benefits of playdough may be fairly obvious, but your child is also developing their literacy skills when they play too!
Talking about what they are doing while they play is a great way to introduce children to new vocabulary. You can talk about the colours and the shapes. Give names to the actions they are using; rolling, patting, squishing, etc.
You can also talk about what they are making. Ask questions like, what did you make? How did you do that?
Another way to build early literacy skills through playing with dough is to encourage your child to use the dough to illustrate a story. Now, I don’t mean actually create pictures with the dough but your child can act out a story with their playdough creations.
For instance, your child might make a dog out of playdough and tell you about the dog they saw on their walk yesterday. Or perhaps they make an apple or carrot and tell you about cooking lunch with you. Watch their play and you will notice the things they have seen and heard, in daily life and in books, will come out in their play.
You definitely want to encourage these conversations during your playdough sessions! (And yes, I hear you groaning about the incessant chatter. It’s okay to want to hide away from it somedays, but take advantage of it when you can)
When it comes time to learn their letters, you can have your child stamp letters into the dough. They can roll the dough into snakes and twist the snakes in to letters. You could add wooden letters into their free play with the dough and see where they take it.
The Benefits of Playdough on Math Skills Development
Some days I like to make up a batch of playdough while my daughter is asleep, then surprise her with a new colour or scent when she wakes up. Other days I include her in making the dough.
Including your little one when you are making playdough is a great way to introduce them to counting and measuring. It’s the same principle as including them in cooking but you don’t need to worry about them ruining your cake batter 😉
When they are small start off by saying things like, We need one big spoonful of this powder, and as they grow you can shift your language. Can you please pass me the tablespoon. Count the cupfuls as your child adds the flour for you.
Make patterns with the loose parts you have added. Cut the dough with different shaped cutters. Ask your child to make you 3 snakes. Talk about the different colours. All of this builds those early maths foundations we want our children to have before they start school.
The Benefits of Playdough on Social Development
All this talking isn’t just developing your child’s literacy and maths skills. It’s developing their social skills too!
They are learning to communicate their thoughts and feelings. They are learning to share and take turns if they are creating with you or with a sibling or friend. You can encourage this by asking them for a turn using the rolling pin or asking them to help you make a tree with the playdough.
You can also use playdough time as a way to learn how to manage big feelings. Teach your child to work out their frustration by rolling and pounding the dough. Just like we might take to a tree with the loppers or bake bread by hand when we need to vent our anger constructively.
Playdough can also be a soothing activity. The repetitive movements, rolling and patting, can feel very calming. You can use pastel colours or add scents like lavender to enhance this effect.
The Benefits of Playdough on Creativity and Imagination
Try adding some playdough to your child’s play kitchen. Or leave some small toys with it. Suddenly the dough is being used in news ways in their imaginative play. They ‘bake cakes’ and pretend to eat them. Or they act out scenes with people they have moulded.
When your child plays with the dough they are creating something new. They learn to think symbolically, which is just a fancy way of saying they learn to pretend one thing is something else. The dough becomes a cat, a tree or an ice-cream.
The level of detail in your child’s imaginative play will grow as your child does. Your role is to watch and see what interests them and provide the materials to stimulate their imaginative play.
Different Ways You Can Use Playdough in Your Home Preschool
Hopefully you now have quite a few ideas on how to use playdough with your child. But if you’re anything like me, you would like a list to refer to. So here it is!
- add colours
- add scents
- add dried flowers and herbs
- add eco-glitter (yes, glitter got eco-friendly! You can get it here)
- add shells
- add stones
- add sticks
- add uncooked pasta of all different kinds for poking
- add uncooked rice for texture
- add paper straws (whole or cut but please use the paper ones like these)
- add feathers
- add leaves
- make with dried spices for colour and scent
- provide cookie cutters
- provide a wooden rolling pin
- provide a bamboo butter knife for cutting (these ones look great)
- provide cups or other containers for squishing the dough in to
- provide child-safe scissors
- add building materials like blocks or Lego
- provide stamps like these for making prints on the dough
This is not an exhaustive list. You can add all sorts of found objects, kitchen utensils and small toys. But please don’t feel like you need to provide all the materials every time. Just put out one or two things when the dough is brought for play. Change the offered materials from time to time to keep the experience fresh and interesting for your child.
You can use playdough in your lessons or as free play. It can be a solo or group activity. It can be played with inside or outside. All of these small variations in play will give your child a variety of learning experiences and more of the benefits of playdough play.
And of course you can always change things up by making a different type of dough altogether! Have you tried making cloud dough yet?
The Best No-Cook Playdough Recipe
This is the recipe I use for making playdough in my home. You can change it up by adding colours or scents but this is my basic go-to.
- 1 cup plain flour (you may need to add a bit extra but start with just the one cup)
- 2 tbps cream of tartar
- 1/2 cup salt
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 tbs cooking oil (you can use your choice of oil. I usually use sunflower oil)
- food colouring, etc optional
Mix together the dry ingredients
- Add the wet ingredients and mix with a spoon to combine
- Turn out on to a board and knead the dough until smooth. Be careful, it will be hot! Add more flour until you get the texture you want
Keep your playdough in an air tight container. I have kept a batch of this one in a glass jar for almost a year and it was still fine! The cream of tartar is in there as a preservative so if you don’t have it, you can leave it out. Your dough just won’t keep as long.
We use playdough in our home all the time and now I hope you will too!