I heard one mother the other day talking about how she has never encouraged her children to play with play dough in their house because she said she simply could not cope with MESS!! God knows I use to dread the moment when my own children picked play dough to play with in the kitchen on rainy days!! Yet, I couldn't deny them the obvious pleasure of rolling, squeezing, pinching, modelling, sculpting and cutting the dough over and over again. And kids in my classroom are no different. Play dough is such a popular activity... and actually very beneficial to them. Let me explain:
1. It promotes fine motor skills
As the children mould the play dough into a new creation, they are using lots of muscles in their hands and fingers, strengthening them and developing their fine motor skills. This is actually a great pre-exercise before working on writing. Playing with play dough does prepare them so well for holding a pen correctly or even for using scissors correctly, believe it or not.
And when you add other little objects to it, you help the children to develop their hand-eye coordination: they need precise movements when they place the objects in specific parts of their play dough creation. And same thing to get them out. And of course, you have guess, this only can benefit their concentration skills too!
So what can you add to the play dough? The Imagination Tree Blog has a list of everything you could possibly think of :
|Picture from the Imagination Tree blog|
But don't let YOUR imagination stop here. If you are using a thematic curriculum, why not add bits and pieces related to the current theme? For instance, add pine cones, nuts, leaves, sticks, dried up cherries etc.. in autumn time. If you are studying the different methods of transport around the world, add toy vehicles, wheels, small mechanic tools etc.. The possibilities are endless.
Here, we added finger stamps just for fun
we added coffee sticks and small Mr Potato Head parts to make monsters
During our study of Antarctica last year, we use buttons and small pegs to make snowmen
Small drift wood sticks
2. Maths reinforcement and sensorial development
You can teach a young child about colours too while using play dough. Let the child play with 2 different coloured dough for instance and through play, help him differentiate the 2 by asking "can you give me a bit of your blue play dough?.. can we use the red one to make an apple?.." You get my drift. You can also differentiate between cold/warm, soft/hard, sticky/smooth etc.. And just as you use casual conversation during these sensorial activities, show the child how to compare length, thickness and weight by using word such as " small, smaller, smallest" or "tall, broad, wide, short" etc.. Make little balls together and practise counting. Match the balls by colours and sizes too!
And if you want the activity to be a stronger sensorial experience, add rice, petals (rose, lavender..), seeds, cinnamon, salt etc...
3. it's therapeutic and relaxing
When a child is upset after his mam has left, when a child is finding it hard to settle or communicate or when the child is a bit boisterous, I always offer the play dough tray and has found that it does actually calm the child's spirit, help him to feel at ease and/or relaxe him. What a great way for stress relief. And why don't you add some essential oils to help the children relax even more! According to a new study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, people with anxiety can experience a heightened sense of smell, and are able to sniff out things that calmer folks might miss. Apparently, you can use this "anxiety-heightened sniffing" ability to tackle the annoying side effects of stress with aromatherapy. I did it and I think it is worth a shot. Not only did the children notice the "unusual" smell but they seemed to be calmer. Or was it my imagination? Of course, don't use the manufactured play dough (they already have a very strong smell!). Make your own batch of play dough! (see recipe below). Some oils are known for their stress relief benefits. I personally like sandalwood and German chamomile but here is a list of other oils:
I used to buy the "PLay-Doh" brand for our classroom as I found it didn't crumble as much as any other I have tried. It smelled good and was very soft to use. But it is costy! It's not the type of play dough that keeps very well. And I had to replace it so often! So I decided I should try to make my own. There are about a million-and-one play dough recipes online. I was looking for one that would be quick and wouldn't require any cooking. Here is the recipe I used:
Just mix the ingredient together with a wooden spoon first. the, you will have to use your hands! Sticky stuff at first but as you keep kneading, the texture of the dough will come together. If the dough gets too sticky, add more flour. If it's not sticky enough and doesn't stick together, add some water! I didn't use food colouring this time. Instead, as we are now talking about harvest and autumn time, I added a few drops of hazelnut! I am so happy with the results! It's even of a better consistency than "Play-Doh", it's much much cheaper and it DOES last longer. Just keep it in a air tight container. I have had mine now for 2 weeks and it looks just as good as new!