The Power Of Playdough – 9 Brilliant Benefits Of Playing With Playdough
In this post we will look at the many benefits of playing with playdough and how it can help your child’s development.
Playdough is a widely used play material at home and in schools for good reason!
Children love playing, creating and building with it.
It allows their imaginations to run wild (they can make anything they can imagine – it might not actually resemble the thing they’re thinking of but hey, that’s what imaginations are for!).
But it’s not just a fun thing to play with. It actually provides loads of opportunities for learning!
What Are the Benefits Of Playing With Playdough?
I’ve looked into the research behind why play is so important before, and it’s true! Playing really is the best way young children learn!
In the words of Maria Montessori “Play is the work of the child”.
Young children learn best when they are doing – and no one’s going to argue that playdough is not hands-on!
Because of the practical nature of the play it helps with so many areas of child development.
Let’s have a look at some of them now:
Playdough Can Aid Social Development
I know from my time working in schools that playdough can be brilliant for helping promote social interactions.
Often when children are playing in school or nursery at the playdough table there will be someone else playing there as well.
This gives them the chance to play and imagine together. Although they may make the things individually, they often then bring them together and create a story which involves all of their creations.
It’s great to watch the way these interactions can evolve. One child may bring up an idea of how they’d like to play and then the others join in and each add their own characters, ideas and storylines to the play.
Playdough can also be a great way to promote sharing and turn taking. Someone may be using the only cutter and the other children may have to wait patiently or ask politely to be able to use it.
Or the children might realise that they can’t use all the red dough as someone else needs it as well.
Playing in this way is just great for making relationships and developing friendships.
The Benefits Of Playing With Playdough – Emotional Development
Playdough’s great because it allows the children to mould and manipulate in the ways they decide – with results they can see straight away.
Because of this, they are able to use the playdough in purposeful ways and can be proud when they create something that they intended to. This gives them a great sense of accomplishment and can boost their self-confidence.
Playing with playdough can also act as a safe outlet for emotions. If children struggle to stay calm or are feeling angry, playdough can be a great material to pound or pinch or twist to help the child release a little extra energy and allow them the time to calm down.
Playdough Can Enhance Literacy Skills
Children will often make up stories to go with what they are playing.
I’ve written before about the science behind why reading to your children is so important to their development. If you read lots to them and if they’ve heard lots of stories they often naturally incorporate some of the characters and themes into their playdough play.
This can be a fun way for them to improve their storytelling abilities.
It can also be beneficial if you prompt them to describe what they are doing, what they’re making and what it feels like. Encourage them to use varied vocabulary and introduce them to new words as they play.
If you give children an old pencil, another pointy tool or even with just their fingers, they can practice mark making and letter formation by scratching into a flattened piece of dough.
You could write some nice big letters, show them how to hold a pencil, and see if they could copy them.
If you give them some pens and paper they could pretend their creations were part of a museum exhibit and label them. Or if they are able to, they could write a story based on the characters they made.
The Benefits Of Playing With Playdough – Language Development
When children are playing with playdough, they often describe what they are making or create a story to go along with their creations.
This is not unusual and research has found this kind of descriptive and reflective talk often accompanies artistic activities.
Children will often recreate stories that they have heard and may make references to their own experiences in life.
If they are playing with other children then they will also be practising their communication skills.
They will need to ask for things if they want them and listen to what the other children are saying as well.
It’s also great if you get involved in the play. That way you can ask them lots of questions and model good language as well!
All these interactions around a ball of playdough can help them to expand their vocabulary and to realise that they need to verbalise their thoughts clearly if they want to be understood.
Using Playdough to Improve Mathematical Skills
Playdough can also be an amazing way for children to learn about mathematical concepts.
They can learn about shape and size as they roll out playdough or cut it into different shapes and print patterns!
They can count how many pieces of playdough they have and compare it to how many you have – practising their counting and teaching them about less and more.
By slicing up a piece of playdough they can learn all about fractions.
And if you allow them to actually make the playdough with you they can learn all about measurement and weight.
Playdough has even been used to teach kids about economics!
Learning About Science
Children learn best when they are doing!
Hands-on experience trumps any kind of theoretical learning at a young age.
That’s why playdough can be so great for children to begin to learn about the properties of objects and cause and effect.
As Goldhaber wrote “Playdough is the perfect medium for creating, observing, and thinking about change. Children learn about the properties of playdough through their initial fingering, poking, and squeezing. They learn that it’s malleable, smooth to the touch. Now that they “know” playdough, children can begin to change it, to transform it.”
They can pummel it into different shapes, they can make it flat, they can discover just how far they can stretch it before it breaks.
If they add water to it they can see it get softer, or if you pull out a bag of old, dried up playdough they can see how a lack of water makes it harder.
Using Playdough to Help Develop Fine Motor Skills
Playdough can be a fantastic way for children to practise and develop their fine motor skills.
When they use their hands or tools to cut it, shape and mould it they are learning hand-eye coordination as well as control and building hand strength.
Playdough is one of the tools we use in school as an intervention for children who lack hand strength, dexterity and fine motor skills.
We play them a Dough Disco video and get them to follow along:
This kind of manipulation of playdough acts as exercises that increase their fine motor skills and hand strength.
This can be particularly important for those children who have trouble holding their pencils correctly or applying enough pressure when they write.
The Benefits Of Playing With Playdough – Creativity
Playdough can be anything a child can imagine!
Because of this it is just amazing for boosting their creativity!
According to Piaget’s theory of child intelligence, children between the ages of 2 and 7 begin to understand and develop a stronger grasp of symbolic play (where they pretend something is something else).
Because of this, kids can engage in dramatic play – their creations can be anything from dogs and dinosaurs to cars and cakes – and there will almost be a story to go along with what they have made.
As they get older, the open-ended nature of this kind of play allows them to think of even more complex narratives to accompany their play.
Maybe, instead of just driving a car around shouting “brruuummm brruuummm”, they are now a mechanic, with bills to pay and deadlines to meet, and they need to fix that blown tyre and get that car back on the road!
For Sensory Development
Playdough can also be a lovely way for children to explore their senses!
They can feel the softness of the dough and can squeeze it to feel it mush through their fingers.
If you add other elements to your dough such as rice or sand they can learn about and experience different textures.
You can add more water to make it softer and slippery.
If you add essential oils or other scents to it then it will also stimulate their olfactory senses.
The Benefits Of Playing With Playdough – Some Tips
Ok, so we now know about many of the benefits that this versatile little dough can bring. But how can we make it part of our kid’s playtime?
You could use invitiations to play!
If you’ve never heard of these, they’re often used in classrooms and are where you set up an area that ‘invites’ kids to come over, explore and play!
For example, you could do this by getting a range of jungle themed coloured dough as well as some animal toys and various dough tools and just allow them to crack on and get stuck in.
The trick is to tailor it to what you know your child likes and would want to play with.
For loads more awesome playdough themed invitations to play check out Fantastic Fun and Learning.
If you want to try making some playdough yourself or with your children you can try this super easy recipe for homemade playdough, with no cooking involved!
As I’ve mentioned throughout this post, getting involved yourself can be brilliant. You can teach them how to use different tools and show them how to make different things.
Asking lots of questions is great as it makes them actually think about what they are doing and can get their creativity firing.
You can join in with whatever story they’ve concocted but remember to let them take the lead!
It’s also important to give them time to play alone as well. Children learn best by exploring and it can give them a super boost to their self esteem if they work out how to make something by themselves!
To make the dough more interesting you can add different textures, colours and smells as I mentioned in the sensory section above.
One word of warning though, playdough can be messy – so make sure you’re playing in area that can handle it. Set up some mats or try and play away from carpets. Playdough can be a real pain to get out if it’s been trampled in!
I hope you’ve learnt something from this post and that it’s inspired you to make some dough and let those kids play!
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Let’s nurture those neurons!
References and Further ReadingClick here for references
- Clay in the Classroom: Helping Children Develop Cognitive and Affective Skills for Learning
- Fractions from concrete to abstract using Playdough Mathematics
- “I make a mark”: The significance of talk in young children’s artistic development
- Play Dough Economics: Motivating Activities for Teaching Economics to Elementary and Middle School Students.
- Playdough: What’s Standard
- Sticky to dry; red to purple: Exploring transformation with playdough