Play Dough For More Than Just Playtime

It’s time to rethink play dough.   More than just a playtime toy, play dough can also be a fun addition to your collection of manipulatives to facilitate creative learning. There lots of ways to use play dough as part of your lessons, but first we need to start our learning by making some homemade dough! Let your older children join the fun by having them make the recipe for younger siblings. The older children will get valuable practice in reading a recipe and following directions, as well as proper measuring. Once the play dough is made, you will find that older children will enjoy using it as much as younger ones!

Play Dough

2 cups flour
3 tbsp cream of tartar
1/2 cup salt
4 tbsp oil
1/2 cup boiling water
food coloring
Mix dry ingredients together. Mix oil, food coloring and boiling water in a separate container. Stir liquid mixture until cool enough to knead. Knead until smooth. If play-dough is too dry, add more water, a little at a time. If play-dough is too crumbly, knead in a small amount of oil. Store in an airtight container.

No-Cook Play Dough

4 cups flour
1 cup salt
4 tbsp oil
1 and 1/2 cup water
Mix oil and food color together before adding to dry mixture. Mix until pliable. Keep in container or plastic bag.

Play dough recipes courtesy of

Now that you have a batch of dough in fun colors, what can you do with it to add educational value?

FIDGET WIDGET – My favorite use for play dough is as a “fidget widget”. A small ball of dough kneaded in an active child’s hands can help them listen more carefully as a lesson is being taught. Having something to hold and squeeze instead of wiggling in a seat or tapping a pencil or foot can help a kinesthetic child concentrate more easily.

COUNTERS – Beginning math students will have fun creating their own counters for the day’s lesson. Line them up and teach ordinal numbers, create patterns with different colors or practice simple addition and subtraction.

ROPE LETTER/NUMBERS – Print a single letter of the alphabet on a sheet of paper, and let your student make a long rope with the dough, then form the letter over the outline on the paper. Your kinesthetic learner will love the hands-on time. Works great with numbers as well.

READING COMPREHENSION – At the start of your read-aloud time, give each child a portion of the play dough Have them create something from the story to share with everyone at the end of the read-aloud session. It could be an important character or item from the story, an aspect of the setting, or a symbol representing something from the reading.

EARLY MATH SKILLS – Play dough is a fun and easy way to teach concepts like large/small, tall/short, etc. Add some fun cookie cutters and you can work on learning shapes.

FINE MOTOR SKILLS – Practice cutting with a small slab of play dough and an extra pair of safety scissors. Little fingers will find play dough much easier to cut and handle than a sheet of paper.

NATURE IMPRESSIONS – Items collected on nature walks often make interesting impressions. You could even create a guess-the-nature-item game based on the impression in the play dough.

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