Playdough. It’s one of those childhood staples. At some point in your life, you’ve probably enjoyed squeezing it, squishing it, rolling it, smashing it, and even making your own.
You can find it in just about every color. You can make it to smell like just about anything imaginable. And, the best part? Playing with playdough is one of those sneaky ways to encourage all kinds amazing developmental skills! Kids are so enamored by the fun that they don’t even realize the benefits to their bodies.
Check out these gross motor, fine motor and sensory motor activities that are all centered around dough!
Maybe the fine motor benefits are obvious, maybe not! But they are definitely endless! Here are a few of our favorite ways to use playdough with little hands.
PLAYDOUGH MATS || This is a great resource of 40+ open-ended playdough mats that will encourage your child’s creativity while strengthening their little fingers as they shape the dough to fit the scenes.
PIECES & PARTS || Twisting, turning, and pushing objects into playdough is fun and requires strength, fine motor control and does a ton for developing grasping skills. Scour your house to find googly eyes, pipe cleaners, pasta, buttons, etc and make up some Playdough monsters, a snowman factory, or lace up some pretty rainbows!
HAND STRENGTHENING || As therapists, we can get dough in a variety of strengths to add resistance for hand strengthening activities. BUT, you don’t need to get fancy to help kids develop hand strength with playdough! Have them cut up playdough into “pasta bites” for a good dose of strengthening. Or, try this idea using a hole punch!
If you hand me a pile of dough, I am going to continuously roll, press, and squeeze it. Why? Stress relief. It’s calming. It works just the same for kids! But, there are other sensory benefits too!
TACTILE || The tactile system is all smiles, getting exposure to an awesome touch experience as your child manipulates playdough in whatever way their body needs.
PROPRIOCEPTIVE || The proprioceptive system gets a boost with deep pressure through a rolling pin or pushing objects in to make imprints like in this bug fossil activity.
OLFACTORY || You want to incorporate the olfactory system? Of course! You can do a Google search and find a recipe for dough that smells like anything you can imagine. Chocolate? Yep. Lemon? Yep. Check out this list of fun scented playdough recipes for kids.
WHAT? Movement and playdough? Leave it to a pediatric physical therapist to come up with these ideas! Kids are motivated by playdough so I use it to my advantage.
USE IT AS A BALL || Use the dough as a ball and throw it, catch it, roll it, even kick it! It’s great for your child to experience all of these skills with different sizes, weights, and resistance. A ball is so old news! Use the dough! Try our Baby Bumble Bee Activity using playdough!
MAKE AN OBSTACLE COURSE || Dough is perfect for obstacle course activities, too! Have you child roll a few “apples” out of red playdough and then walk a line, jump off of a step, hop on one foot, and do a somersault to get to the apple tree to press their apples on (I use a therapy ball as the “tree” for an extra core strengthening challenge).
VERTICAL SURFACE PLAY || Take advantage of a vertical surface and the benefits it provides by having your child reach high and low to press playdough into smiley faces, letters of their name or play a game of tic tac toe!
Now that you have the scoop on some of the amazing developmental benefits of playdough, you’re going to need some to play with! Here are a few tried and true recipes we love:
ALL NATURAL GLOW IN THE DARK PLAYDOUGH
Or, if you are like me and sometimes it is just easier to buy, here are some kits that would make perfect gifts for the holidays!
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