I genuinely think that if you were restricted to just one resource to teach children with, probably the number one choice would be playdough.
It is just so tactile, and flexible, and children quite simply love it.
You can teach maths, literacy, vocabulary, fine motor, and so many more skills through playdough. Pretty much the whole curriculum can be covered with just a bit of imagination.
But have you every wondered what the benefits of playdough are?
Play with playdough develops creative and imaginative possibilities for children. They make decisions, and develop independence. It leads to exploration, talk, investigation, manipulation, physical development, and many other skills.
In this post I want to put across the best 20 benefits that children will encounter when playing with this spectacular substance. Although these are only the tip of the iceberg, hopefully l can inspire you to use playdough in as many weird and wonderful ways as you can think of.
All the photos in this blog have come from the fantastic Instagram page of Learning, Play and Wonder. Thanks to Holly, who regularly posts really inspiring images of her beautiful early years environment.
1.Awe And Wonder
In the UK this a phrase that is bandied around a lot – Awe and Wonder. It is a beautiful concept – that sense of heightened curiosity and engagement that children get when in the presence of certain exciting experiences.
Playdough offers this in bucketloads.
For example, a few objects hidden in dough can be become ‘treasure’ hidden by pirates.
You can make beautiful playdough models using loose parts.
You can experiment with different ways of printing into the dough with objects.
Playdough provides an excellent vehicle for children to become engaged, and ‘in the zone’.
There are probably at least fifteen amazing maths games that I regularly use with playdough.
Some of these include:
- Creating things of different sizes – e.g. three bears
- Creating playdough models with different quantities of things – e.g. a bug with ten eyes
- Making models that link to counting songs, – e.g. 5 fat sausages from the song
Playdough is great for experiencing maths concepts in action.
On the practical maths training courses I run around the UK, we try out many hands-on playdough maths ideas, and these are always a huge hit with practitioners and children. If you want to find out more about these courses, then check them out here.
For example, you may count features of what you have made. You may weigh something, or put some creations in order.
You can experiment with shape, number, calculating, weight – so many things!
Some things you can do include:
- Creating letters
- Building words
- Creating models of things that start with a certain sound
- Create models, and then give them a ‘rhyming name’ – e.g. Hairy Mary.
Things like this are fun, and just solidify the concepts you are trying to get across in the children’s minds.
This is a huge one!
Playing with playdough is most often a shared experience. Children will be talking about what they have done, and sharing ideas.
Children love engaging on the same theme, such as all making aliens.
Or they might make presents for each other – such as the old classic, a birthday cake.
They get to play linked to stories and this heightens their understanding of the world and social dynamics of reality.
This is quite an obvious one, and something that will be going on pretty much all the time during most types of playdough play.
Children are going to intensely looking and manipulating at the same time. Their fingers will be rolling, pinching, squeezing, poking, and do multiple actions led by their eyes. There are multiple benefits of developing fine motor skills, and you can read the 20 most important benefits in this article.
Using objects such as loose parts, or tools such as cutters really stimulates this benefit too.
This is arguably the most important benefit of playdough.
It is very much a substance of infinite possibilities.
It is great for:
- Creating things from stories
- Linking to children’s own experience
- Make their ideas a concrete reality
Playdough can be used all by itself, or it can be used alongside many other things. These include:
- Loose parts such as stones, shells, and matchsticks. To find out many more loose parts that would be brilliant with playdough, check out this list of at least 100 loose parts materials
- Tools such as rolling pins and printers
There are many mental health benefits associated with playing with dough.
It helps children get ‘in the zone’ and into a state of flow. This is excellent for developing concentration and avoiding distractions.
Its texture (its squidginess and springiness) is just very therapeutic and soothing.
You can put different scents into playdough, such as lavender for a more calming experience.
Or use cool natural colours such as light green.
This is a more specific maths concept that I thought I would go into in more depth.
This is because playdough is my favourite way of teaching length and the vocabulary involved in the concept of length.
Children love making models of things that are different lengths.
For example, it could be Stickmans’ family. Or they could make a collection of snakes.
Simple activities like this are great for asking questions such as:
How many have you got?
Which is the longest/shortest?
Can you put them in order?
Children can become scientists when using playdough, and it is excellent for experimenting.
For example, when making models, they find out which objects will stick to others.
They find out why bits of their model might fall over because it’s too heavy.
They explore rolling, and shape, and the properties of different materials.
Good-quality playdough play is a barrage to the senses!
There is so much visual stimulation going on.
Also you can put different scents in the dough (though often just the salty smell alone is quite enticing to children).
There is all sorts of touch experiences going on continually throughout the play.
It really is a great substance for addressing different learning styles!
The big one to avoid is the sense of taste! Some children will definitely have a go of eating playdough. It is well known amongst pretty much everyone that has worked with this age of children (between 2 to 5). It won’t do them much harm in small doses, but is definitely something to stop whenever you see it!
11.It Is A Blank Canvas
Every time children use dough it will be slightly different to the last.
And every time you start with a blank canvas that can be easily tidied away at the end as well.
It inspires mark-making on its surface, sticking things in it, manipulating it in numerous ways, and all the other creative things you can do with it.
12.A Medium In Which To Use Tools
One of the beauties of playdough is that it supports many other resources and tools to be used with it.
There are few other malleable substances that can be used alongside so many tools. Plasticine is too rigid to be rolled or cut. Saltdough is too sticky.
But playdough is just the right consistency of pliability and resilience.
Some great tools to use with playdough include:
- Rolling pins
- Textured rolling pins
- Dough scissors
- 2D shape cutters
- Loose parts – e.g. shells, corks, stones
- Cake cases
- Baking tins
You many want to give children continual access to many of these resources. Alternatively, some more structured activities lend themselves to a few specific tools. For example, making pancakes is great for rolling.
To find out more about children using tools in other contexts, check out these 10 outdoor tools activities.
Dough is great for exploring mark-making through printing.
You can explore patterns, for example by using two different types of objects to stamp the dough with. For example, a peg and a shell. Stamp ‘peg, shell, peg, shell…’ and make a tactile repeating pattern in the dough.
I have used some corks with different things superglued to the end. These make excellent printers.
You can make pictures and patterns with them.
You can roll things over the dough, such as toy cars. This leaves different wheel patterns on the dough.
You can press it with things that have patterns in them, for example leaves or pine cones.
Playdough is good for carving into using clay knives.
There are so many amazing ideas that you can try with playdough, both adult led, or coming from the children.
Things I have seen others try out include:
- Making gardens with dough. This looked like a lump of dough with different things like twigs and leaves to look like bushes and trees
- Making goodies and baddies
- Making superhero vehicles
These are just the tip of the iceberg as well.
Imagination comes in many forms, including:
- What tools to use
- What resources to use
- How to use them
Children are given freedom when they play with dough. They are in charge of their own learning, and can experiment and find solutions or make mistakes.
This sense of autonomy is a critical part of early play.
They decide many things, for example:
How to make their house taller…
How to make eyeballs for their monster…
What to use for teeth for their zombie…
Independence is a huge deal in life, and one of the key ingredients that good quality learning experiences in the early years prioritises.
Most dough play is invigorated by the children’s ideas. This can be the case even when an adult has structured the beginning of an activity – the children will usually put their own individual stamp onto it.
It is a good idea to give children a range of options when they are creating with dough. Give them a few different resources and tools, and this generates independence and a sense of achievement and power.
17.Understanding The World
Children will often link their dough play to the world around them.
They may mimic events in their lives. Or represent festivals or celebrations.
For example, children may make fireworks around times of the year when they are used.
They may create hedgehogs after they see one outside.
They create links between their thoughts, and the concrete world.
All sorts of issues may well come up in good-quality dough play.
For example, a child might be making a model using cocktail sticks and dough balls. Parts of the model may be falling over because it is too heavy. What can they do?
What different materials can they use for this part of the model?
How can they represent different things in their creation?
There are all sorts of issues that will require a creative response to get around them.
Dough provides many opportunities that support critical thinking.
What is this?
Put simply, critical thinking is making decisions based on what you have assessed about a situation.
So, you might find that your model of a tree keeps falling over because the twig you are balancing in a ball of dough is too heavy for the ball. The solution? Maybe use a smaller twig, or more playdough!
Critical thinking is linked to problem solving, and is also about thinking for yourself.
It is a crucial skill of life, and something that is strongly supported by practical, hands-on learning.
Children will be playing and talking at the same time.
They will be sharing ideas with each other.
They will be talking their ideas through as they happen, and be talking about any problems they encounter.
They comment on the work of others.
They talk about the world and their lives and link it to their creations.
Playing with dough is excellent for creating characters, and developing stories and narratives. They can link to books, or just completely make it up.
Phew! That’s pretty much it for now on the benefits of using playdough.
It really is hard to think of another resource that has so much versatility, and it can be used across the whole curriculum. Good luck with the playdough!