6 Benefits of Play-Doh Play (and a freebie)

In my last post I encouraged you to get messy with Play-Doh and, at the end, I promised to show you how Play-Doh can be used to promote learning. So, let’s jump in to the nitty gritty and explore six specific areas of development and Play-Doh activities designed to enhance them.

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  1. Fine Motor Development: Play-Doh is great for getting little hands prepared for drawing and writing. Simple activities like rolling, patting, pinching, and pulling Play-Doh are great for strengthening little hands.I’ve found simple Play-Doh sets with stamps are easy for little hands (this picnic set is a great example). If your little one is closer to three years-old, consider more complex motor activities, like cutting. Play-Doh in general lends itself to this, but there are also many simple sets, appropriate for young children, which include scissors.  Both this starter set and this Fun Factory Mega Set have tools like stamps, scissor and cutters. Best of all, Play-Doh is great for practicing cutting because it’s easy and safe — there’s no need to worry about sister’s hair or your favorite shirt.
  2. Bilateral coordination: This is a fancy word to describe using  two hands together to perform an activity, which means both sides of the brain are engaged and communicating with one another to perform the task.Small children demonstrate, and can improve their bilateral coordination by using both hands to roll Play-Doh into a ball or snake. For older ones you might encourage them to hold the Play-Doh in one hand while using the other to cut with a knife or scissors. The Fun Factory’s activities promote bilateral coordination by having the child push with two hands to make shapes. These activities help train a child’s brain toorganize his or her body since each hand is doing a different job.
  3. Matching: Matching by color may seem simple to you and me, but it’s a wonderful tool for promoting cognitive development. It can also be a good tool for teaching children how to clean up after themselves.I like to use matching as a way to make clean-up fun. As we clean up Play-Doh, I’ll prompt the child to match colors by placing Play-Doh in the correct can. You could also have them make something like snowmen or caterpillars out of a matching set of colored balls. You might make the first ball and have your child add to it, being sure to matching the correct colors along the way, or have him or her make the first ball. I like to use these IKEA colored bowl and children can sort their creations by color.  My free Play-Doh printable includes activities to promote matching. 
  4. Size and Shape: Like matching, size and shape may seem simple, but little ones are still learning about size and shape.Because Play-Doh is so easy to manipulate, it really lends itself to sorting activities. I recommend making and working on matching similar sized objects. Once your little one’s mastered that skill, you can move on to simple comparisons of different sized and shaped objects. You might help pat out different sized “cookies” or roll different sized balls. Then, after they’ve mastered this second level matching skill, move on to questioning. See if they can give you a big or small object. Finally, once they’ve got that, you can have then compare even more independently by asking, “Where is a big piece?” Use my Play-Doh mat to sort balls by size.  (See link at bottom of post for the free printable). 
  5. Pretend Play: If you read this blog at all, you know I talk a lot about pretend play. Pretend play is an important cognitive skills which begins to emerge around 18  months.  A child pretending to do something, like clean or stir or talk on the phone is evidence his or her brain is developing as it should.Play-Doh bumps pretend play to a higher level by encouraging symbolic play (using one object to represent another). Kids start with patting or rolling Play-Doh, but, before long, they’ll move on to making Play-Doh into something altogether different. You may start to see them make thing like hot dogs, pizza, snakes, or cars (you may even model this sort of play yourself).You can then couple the Play-Doh car (or whatever) with other toys to further promote pretend and symbolic play. Feed those hotdogs and pizzas to their

    Little People, plastic animals, or favorite characters, have them ride around in a Play-Doh car, or “splash” Play-Doh mud on their tractor. My favorite Play-Doh pretend play set is a Cookie Monster. I have yet to meet a toddler who doesn’t like this toy.Unfortunately it is not available anymore (unless you want to spend $250!),  so look for it at consignment and yard sales.

  6. Self calming:  For a child who is active and craves movement, Play-Doh can make a great calming tool. A lot of times squeezing, pulling, and pushing is exactly what a toddler needs to calm himself or herself.As my own children became older, and needed less supervision, I often brought out the Play-Doh as I was making dinner. They played in the kitchen, so we’d be together, but their little hands were occupied while I was busy cooking.  It was worth a little mess to have them calmly entertained during a hectic part of the day.

I hope these ideas inspire you. If they do, grab your toddler, a can of Play-Doh, and have some fun together.

We play, I learn!

Click here  subscribe to weplayilearn.com. For a limited time, all new subscribers will receive a set of Play-Doh Mat printables.  

Tips for getting the most from the free printable:

  1. Print on white paper, card stock works best.
  2. Laminate paper for durability. I have a Swingline Laminator and use it all the time. Before I had my laminator I used these Self-Adhesive Laminating Sheets which worked well.
  3. Play with your child and have lots of fun!

Please let me know how your child liked the Play-Doh mats.

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