Smash, Pinch, Squish, and Poke Your Way to Learning: The Power of Playdough - DuPage Children's Museum

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Smash, Pinch, Squish, and Poke Your Way to Learning: The Power of Playdough

December 14, 2017

A love of playdough seems to be timeless and understandably so! For all of us sensory oriented people, it can be relaxing or even stress relieving. For creative types, it sparks our imaginations and stimulates our curiosity. Whether it’s homemade or store bought, there is just something about playdough that draws you in.

But did you know that playdough is so much more than a fun sensory experience? Playdough can be used to support all areas of development from fine motor to social-emotional as well as learning math, science, and language. It stimulates creativity, imagination, and problem-solving skills too which are all important to the development of critical thinking skills. The act of playing with playdough works to strengthen important small muscles in children’s hands.

Scientific Thinking
One of the foundational skills in science learning for young children is the ability to notice and talk about the physical properties of objects and how they do or do not change when manipulated. When making your own playdough, talk to your little ones about what happens to the dry ingredients when you add the wet. If you are adventurous, don’t follow the recipe! This presents opportunities for experimentation and great discussion – “Looks like we used too much water because the dough is very wet. Should we try adding more flour? What do you think would have happened if we had added too much flour instead?”

To support math learning, write or print the recipe in a large font and walk children through it step by step. It’s never too early to introduce children to measurement and numbers, especially when it is fun and hands-on. Playing with playdough also presents lots of opportunities to practice counting, talk about spatial relationships, sort and classify, compare and contrast. All of these things lay the foundation for later learning of increasingly complex math concepts.

Language and Literacy
Through play, playdough naturally stimulates experiences that encourage children to tell stories, explain what they are doing, negotiate situations with peers, practice listening and talking, and develop vocabulary. For instance, during parallel play with an adult you can help them compare and contrast – “My snake is very long and thin and yours is short and thick!” or support vocabulary by using and discussing descriptive words – i.e. chop, slice, knead. If your child has a favorite story I also love using playdough play to re-create or act out the story!

Extend and enhance play experiences by providing children with materials you can find around your home. Here are a few things to try:
Bottle caps
Garlic press (be prepared to give it up forever)
Large buttons and other objects that can be pressed into the playdough to make a design
Leaves, twigs, pebbles
Plastic knives, forks, and spoons
Rolling pin or bottle
Small toy people and animals
String or shoelaces
Toothpicks (only for older children)
Pipe cleaners
There are TONS of awesome recipes online for different types of playdough and I encourage you to play around with them. In the meantime, here’s one I like for a classic playdough.

What you need:
1 cup water
food coloring
6 cups flour
1 cup vegetable oil
measuring cups
mixing bowl
wooden spoon

Directions :
Mix water and food coloring in bowl
Add flour and oil
Knead until smooth

Dough can be reused; store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

Questions? Favorite recipe or way to extend the play? I would love to hear your experiences. Post a comment here or on our social media. Use the hashtag #PlayIQwithDCM and I will answer your questions!