We all know that play dough is fun and popular with young children, but apart from making a mess what is it really good for? Using play dough (or in fact any type of dough) with young children is beneficial for their development in so many ways. Here are some ideas of how fabulous it is, divided into the areas of development that it helps
Fine motor development
The malleable properties of play dough make it fun for investigation and exploration as well as secretly building up strength in all the tiny hand muscles and tendons, making them ready for pencil and scissor control later on. Poking in objects and pulling them out of play dough strengthens hand muscles and co-ordination.
Having a wide range of additional extras to use while playing extends the investigation and play possibilities endlessly. Poking in sticks provides a challenge and a new physical skill. As part of simple, tactile play it can be squashed, squeezed, rolled, flattened, chopped, cut, scored, raked, punctured, poked and shredded! Each one of these different actions aids fine motor development in a different way, not to mention hand-eye co-ordination and general concentration.
Squeezing through a garlic press leads to wonder and amazement at seeing it change shape, as well as using a gross motor movement to accomplish it. Sticking in spaghetti requires a delicate hand and can lead to threading and stacking pasta shapes or beads over the top.
Providing boxes and containers with various shaped compartments can lead to cooking play, sorting, matching, ordering and counting, all naturally and without pressure to learn. By providing objects from nature with a wide range of textures, colours and shapes, children can have multi-sensory experiences and engage with the world around them in a whole new way.
Maths and Literacy development
In more focused play, play dough can be used as a fantastic way to practise letter and number work. Children can form letters of the alphabet, spell out their own name, make numbers, form 2D and 3D shapes, compare lengths/ thicknesses/ weights, count out rolled balls to match numeral cards, match and sort by colour and SO many more ideas too!
Science and Discovery:
The actual act of making the play dough together with your child can lead to lots of questioning and prediction skills. 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?
The 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 and hands of a child that’s quite some transformation!
Following a recipe and instructions, counting out cups, stirring and mixing and just being able to spend time on a collaborative project with an adult are all meaningful and important experiences too!
What an incredible substance play dough is! Let’s all start using it as part of our daily play and learning times with the young children in our care! See below for playdough play ideas (PDF).