Why Play Dough Is Worth The Hassle!!

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How to … Boost your child’s development AND get some moments to yourself!

I get it… I’m a Mum too! Play dough can sometimes feel like it belongs in the too hard basket so that it can’t stick to anything in the house and leave dried up crumbs on the floor.

BUT (yes, there’s a but! Stay with me!) there are SO many positives that your child can get from playing with play dough. PLUS, it’s often one of those activities that keeps kids busy for quite a while (your version of quite a while is likely dependent on how old your child is!). Which is good for everyone!

What’s the big deal about play dough?

Well, I’m so glad you asked! Every single time your child plays with play dough, they are adding to their experience of messy play and using their fine motor skills. Why is that important?

Let’s start with messy play. Exposure to sticky, squishy textures like play dough helps our kids tolerate these touch sensations and helps them to know that sticky stuff on your hands is ok. This is actually a big deal- we’re always asking kids to touch or eat foods of varying textures and stickiness, so feeling ok about mess on our hands really helps with this. It also helps kids engage in other typical kid activities like using glue, playing with sand, dirt or mud, painting and all of those other fun messy activities we remember from being kids ourselves!

PLUS… fine motor skills. These are skills that need us to use the small muscles of our hands. We need our fine motor skills to help us with important stuff like opening a bottle of water, unlocking our front door, putting coins into a vending machine and, of course, for writing and drawing. So pretty important! Any time you play with play dough, you’ll be using some kind of fine motor skills, as we manipulate play dough with our hands. We can target specific types of fine motor skills by using play dough in different ways.

The recipe below is super quick to make and you can even get your child involved to make it. I take over once we reach the boiling water step though!

How to play with play dough….

Well firstly, you can just chuck it on a table and see what your child comes up with. Easy peasy. If they need some extra ideas or you’d like to practise some specific skills, read on.

Fine motor skills

  1. Practise pinching with your thumb and pointer finger. One way to do this is to roll some play dough into a sausage and pinch it from one side to the other. Or you can make some small play dough balls and ask your child to pinch them all to squish them. Pinching can happen more naturally in play also, whether that’s pinching to make spines for a stegosaurus or pinching to get marbles that have been hidden in the play dough.
  2. Rolling balls. We can do this in a bunch ways. Easiest = one hand on the table. You only have to coordinate 1 hand and get the “round and round” action going. Next is rolling between your 2 hands. This is trickier as it requires a bit of coordination, but usually gets the job done quicker! Finally, the ultimate in ball rolling challenges… rolling (a small amount of) play dough in one hand – not touching the table. This is a great one for kids who can do the first 2 options easily. Have a go at it yourself before you show your child – feel how all of the muscles of your hand are having to work pretty hard. If you’re demonstrating how to do this one, try to just use your thumb, pointer and middle fingers as they’re the fingers we use for tricky tasks like writing and it’s great for kids to practise coordinating these fingers together.
  3. Flicking! Using the small balls you made earlier (or balls that you’ve premade for them) try using your pointer finger and thumb to flick the balls through a “goal” or along a path.
  4. Using scissors. You can use play dough scissors (completely plastic and can’t cut anything else like paper or hair!) or regular safety scissors (still made for kids but can also cut paper, but hopefully not hair!). Roll a sausage and show your child how to “snip” it into pieces. This is great for practising where to hold the play dough, learning how to hold scissors and practising opening and losing the scissors.

Pretend play

But wait… there’s more! Play dough is so great for pretend play as it can really be anything! Pretend play is an important way kids build their language skills, problem solving skills and social skills (and a bunch of other skills that nerds like me love looking at, but I’ll spare you today!). Depending on the age of your child and how comfortable they are with pretend play, they may need very little involvement from you, or they may need some prompting or “modelling” (just a fancy way of saying you do it first so that they can copy you!). A great way to start kids off is to put some play dough on the table and also give them other tools/toys that may inspire them to get into some pretending.

Practical examples… (I will always try to give lots of these as I know how much it helps when you’re on the spot thinking… I’m sure there’s a way to add to this but my coffee hasn’t kicked in yet!)

  1. Play dough + bowl, spoon, fork (or any other appropriate kitchen gadgets like a potato masher, garlic crusher, tongs, cookie cutters etc.)
    • Modelling tips – make some pretend cookies and “feed” them to a favourite doll or teddy. You could also make sausages, pizzas, meatballs, nuggets (pretty much anything!). You can pretend the food is too hot, you can practise chopping it up, take restaurant orders from each teddy, pretend to have a café… You could put the play dough food in a lunch box for each teddy or deliver it to their house.
  2. Play dough + animal figurines
    • Modelling tips – make some animal food, fences, obstacles for animals to jump over, blue play dough spread out to be “water”, green or brown play dough spread out to be “land”. You can pretend the animals are getting stuck, have eaten too much, are hiding. You can make animal tracks and follow them to find out what they’re up to!
  3. Play dough + cars
    • Modelling tips – make some “speed bumps” for cars to drive over or roll the play dough into long thin sausages and make the boundaries of the road with it. You could also make play dough road signs, play dough car park spaces, play dough boom gates… so many options!!

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