One, Two, Three, Dough!

There is such an incredible range of beautiful, open ended children's products on the market today that teach so many wonderful things. From the days of my childhood to today, with my own little girl, a favourite childhood craft continues to stand the test of time. The old, tried, and true play dough. No doubt you will find most of the ingredients needed in your kitchen cupboard, and when a ball of handmade flour can provide so many hours of entertainment, educational activities, and time enough for you to drink that coffee hot, you can bet it will be a well-used playroom staple. We can squish, manipulate, make, break, squeeze, shape, poke, stamp, and scrunch play dough to provide hours of learning for children of all ages.

As babies, we learn through watching, observing, touching, tasting, hearing. Sensory activities are crucial for their development and while an occasional nibble of playdough is not unheard of, simply watching others play with the dough encourages learning and provides stimulation to each growing child. As they grow and reach toddlerhood, developing their independence and a love of the word "No" (around 327 times a day - can't just be my child?), and with more than a million neural connections gained from birth to three years by these little humans every second, there are so many ways in which we can help to engage children in stimulating learning activities, and encourage their development. So, let’s learn with playdough!

1. Play dough Faces - Learning facial expressions 

Learning to identify facial expressions is an important part of children's social development. Making play dough faces and helping children to recognize different facial expressions, can also be helpful in regulating emotions - I know I always love to have a squish of playdough with my daughter, Adelie, if I'm feeling a little stressed! While having fun with the play dough, make these expressions on your face and ask your child to pick the play-dough face that they think you are making "Am I a happy face, or a sad face". Expand on this activity by talking to your child about a time they might have felt sad, happy, excited, mad etc.

2. Learning our letters 

We all love singing the alphabet and learning our letters, so why not make some letters with play dough or even start teaching them the letters of their name. I love making my daughter’s name and encouraging her to trace the play dough letters with her fingers and finding objects that correspond to a particular letter e.g. "A is for Adelie, A is for apple". Cater to your child's interest and abilities, perhaps you can lay out the play-dough alphabet and recite it with them, or maybe they would like to make the alphabet themselves. Furthering this sensory experience, trace the alphabet into the playdough and add some marbles / dried flowers / sensory rice to fill in the alphabet and create a beautiful tactile experience.

3. Grow a Garden - Teaching plant life 

This is one of my favourite play-dough activities with my little girl, wonderfully tactile and close to my heart as a plant lover. Being so cold and rainy in Melbourne some days, I decided a play-dough garden would be a perfect indoor activity for a little gardening experience.

Starting with a play-dough base (the dirt), grab some sunflower seeds (any seeds), dried flowers (or real nature), and blue sensory rice if you have any on hand (or just any rice). I would then encourage my daughter to 'plant the seeds' by sprinkling the seeds on the playdough, while showing her books on how plants grow. Next, we would 'water the seeds', sprinkling blue rice on the seeds and then folding them into the playdough as you scatter flowers (dried flowers) that have grown and bloomed.

We would talk about the sun helping the plants to grow, and the insect life that lived in the garden (pop in some insect toys or even make some with play dough) and the habitats the garden creates for life. There are so many wonderful sensory parts you can use for this activity, why not go for a walk with your little one to collect some nature to use in their 'garden'. Of course, this is a beautiful way to learn to grow an actual garden for themselves, using play to investigate new ideas and develop an understanding of the environment around them. 

Why not learn and make numbers with your child, grab some loose parts or make play-dough balls, and turn it into a counting exercise, moulding the playdough into the number it equals. Or make a small world play with your children's interests? My little one loves dinosaurs so together we make volcanoes and trees and pop some little dinosaur toys in to roam around. Or grab some blocks and imprint the shape into the play dough and take them on a journey learning their shapes.

Play-dough is one the most versatile resources for hands-on learning and the educational experiences that you can create are endless.

So, grab that playdough and get 'doughing'!

Kristiaan Sinclair

About the Author 

Kristiaan lives in Melbourne, Australia with her Fiancé and 21 month old daughter, Adelie. Having worked with children in both London and Australia, and now with a daughter of her own, her days are filled with play, nature walks and writing blogs of Motherhood and Play at www.bohoandcub.com. She hopes to inspire parents with her play set-ups and share her journey as a Mumma, with a dream to eventually live by the beach in far north QLD, with 3 children and working in the Education sector, while continuing her love of blogging.

Would love to hear how your littles love to use play dough! Let’s connect!
IG: boho.and.cub
www.bohoandcub.com