Has there ever been a better resource invented for preschoolers than play dough? There are numerous words to describe play dough. Squishy play dough has been a favorite for years in pre-schools, and it rightly remains so.
That’s because play dough is one of the best ways to develop children’s fine motor skills.
A three-year-old has a hand that is largely like a little paw. Many of their bones are still soft, and the muscles are undeveloped.
Picking up a pencil to write can be painful until the muscles in hand have had time to develop and the bones have time to fuse properly. Playing with play dough can really help to work on those little muscles and build them up.
It’s a little-known fact that when astronauts prepare to go into space, NASA space station recommends using play dough to build up the astronaut’s hands so they can be dextrous in space while wearing the bulky temperature control gloves.
It’s the same principle for our little ones. We need to work on those muscles to strengthen their hands and fingers.
Whenever you use play dough, try to make sure that there is enough to go around. A good amount of good quality dough is essential.
Too little, and the magic just won’t work. I like to make my dough as it is much cheaper, but you can make a more generous amount, and if the dough gets too crumbly or wet, throw it away. High-quality dough means the best high-quality results.
Words for Action
To begin, let the children use the dough without any tools.
This is an important stage for them to get used to manipulating the dough.
As they play, give them the words for their actions:
If you have children who love new words, try introducing them to longer words like:
There’s nothing wrong with using some describing words too:
These are all fun words that children will love. Most children love the sound of new words and will repeat them to you and this would help them learn words to describe play dough.
You can easily change the color of the dough by adding a few drops of food coloring as you mix it. Store the dough in an airtight container to make it last longer.
Use alternate batches of colored dough; when you are ready, you can also introduce some color mixing by using two batches simultaneously. The colors will start to blend as the children roll the dough together.
- Red and yellow into orange
- Blue and red into purple
- Yellow and blue into green
For lovely ideas to encourage those little fingers to get working, why not try the Dough Disco:
Allow preschool children ample time to work the dough, encouraging` them to roll out balls and sausage shapes. This should allow plenty of opportunities to talk about size.
Introduce words like:
For rolled sausages, snakes, and worms
For little balls, peas, or spheres.
When introducing play dough tools, start with small wooden rolling pins and show the children how to roll the dough until it is flat enough to cut out shapes. Little hands need lots of practice and time. A set of shape cutters is a good addition at this stage.
Cutters for 2D shapes can introduce shape words like:
- Or extend your shapes to
But you don’t have to stop at 2D shapes. Hopefully, your children can roll out spheres and cylinders, so you can introduce the correct shape words as you play.
Cut out 2D shapes to build:
Dough and Maths
Next, you can introduce numbers and mathematical words through the dough. Count and sing number rhymes as you play – you can even make the props from the dough. This would help them learn words to describe play dough.
Sing 5 little ducks and make 5 little ducks or 5 little monkeys.
Use sharing words as you share the dough.
Say phrases like:
“I’m going to divide the dough in half for you,” or “Let’s share this dough out into quarters,”
Words like divide, share, halves, and quarters don’t need to be fully understood by preschool children, but they need to start to hear the words as this sets the foundations for mathematical development later on.
Dough and Creativity
But there’s no need to stop at mathematical and number words. Creative words can also be introduced and reinforced as you play with dough.
These can all describe what the children are creating as they play. Sometimes practitioners worry about using longer, more complex words with preschool children, but as long as there is no pressure for the children to use them, it’s fine for children to hear longer words.
It’s good practice. Remember, if you have children with specific speech and language delays or children receiving speech therapy, always talk to their therapist first, as they may need a more bespoke speech and language program.
However, introducing longer words will only deepen and extend their vocabulary for most children.
Making your dough with preschool children is a brilliant activity. It allows them to see how simple materials can change and introduces basic cooking vocabulary.
For a simple play dough recipe, try:
- 2 cups plain flour to 1 cup of salt.
- Add 1 dessert spoon of cooking oil and 1 cup of cold water.
- Finally, add a couple of drops of food coloring.
Blend the salt and flour, then slowly add the remaining ingredients.
As you make the dough, be sure to use words like:
Then as you begin to form the dough, you can use the following:
- Push and pull
- Squash and squish
There’s no need to pressure the children to learn the words. Hearing you model new words and use them in the context of their play is enough at this stage. It is important to have lots of fun because children won’t realize they are learning.
There are over fifty words above, but there are many, many more that you can use. Once you start, you’ll start to discover more and more.
So go on, get the dough out, and start playing. If you have play dough, you can easily replace it with salt dough or pastry.
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