Tuesday, 27 December 2011

the great and epic playdough post

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ok, so I might be overdoing it a little on the title here, but in less than three months of blogging I have written 17 playdough posts! You might say we're fans...

I know some moms are a little wary of messy play - let me tell you, I live in a rented house, with white walls and beige carpets... and I am one of the biggest endorsers of messy playtime. My motto is 'There is nothing so dirty it cannot be cleaned' (my grandmother used to say 'It'll all come out in the wash' during times of adversity  and it always stuck with me). The learning, creative and development opportunities a little messy sensory arty-time affords for your kids is so worth having to do an extra sweep-up/wipe-down in my opinion!

Let me share some of my thoughts, you might change your mind too:

1. you place a lump of playdough in front of your child - there are no cues or prompts, a complete blank canvas that your kiddo will find enthralling (in fact place a lump of playdough in front of an adult and they are transfixed too!) There are no rules, no wrong ways, no limit but their imagination. This is important. I do a lot of 'activities' with my kiddos, I know sometimes I go into them with a certain outcome in mind. Playdough is not like that, it is all about the process. I repeat this is important.

2. remember your how your baby had chubby little hands, round fat palms and sticky little fingers? Throughout their preschool years those hands will learn to grasp, manipulate, pinch, roll and control. One day those muscles will be finely tuned instruments capable of holding a pencil, writing a novel, playing a concerto. Fine motor skills are pre-writing skills, they are a precursor to pretty much everything you do as an adult (think about how much you use your fingers in the course of a day). Now is the time those little chubby fingers are developing - the strength and skills developed by manipulating, rolling, adding elements, constructing... and destroying a playdough creation.

3. I don't know if I harp on about the importance of sensory play enough. We experience the world through our senses - for your child this is the first time they have felt something fluffy or smelt something flowery - they learn how to smell or feel, where that experience comes from, what is the opposite, the words to desribe what they are experiencing, which body parts are linked to the sense. Memories are the basis of learning, sensory play anchors that memory in your child's mind, gives them an understanding rather than a concept (try explaining the concept of salty and sweet to someone who has never tasted those flavours). Playdough offers a range of sensory elements - sight: colours, making shapes and letters, adding sparkles, beads or natural elements. Smell: we usually add spices or cooking essence to our playdough, cinnamon, coffee and peppermint are some of our favourites - this offers opportunity to learn new vocabulary, link the scents to other smells (Vanilla, for example, smells like baking cookies), and introduce new concepts that might not have been encountered. Touch: I guess this is the most utilised sense when playing with playdough: the feel of the dough under your fingers, learning how much pressure to apply to create or destroy, adding elements like dried rice or beads to change the texture, the movements required to roll a ball or a snake for example.

4. I have touched upon new vocabulary already, but I think it is important on it's own too - any new experience for your child offers more opportunity to introduce new vocab. Sticky, squashy, pinch, roll, (smash, in this house!) create, build, poke, hide, dig, cut - you might feel silly, esp if your kiddo is pre-talking, just describe what you can feel, know that they are soaking up every word. As I mentioned before, grounding vocabulary in experience is important - your child needs to associate the word sticky with the feeling of stickiness in order to remember, understand and correctly use that word in the future.

5. Investigating - I talked once before about how science is my weak-spot when it comes to playing with the kids. In my head I think I don't know how to do it. Playdough leads to exploration, in an unstructured (therefore panic free for me) way. From weighing out the ingredients, seeing how they change and transform when mixed together, how something dry like flour and salt develops as it is kneaded - to playing with the finished product, how it is more pliable when warm, why you need to store it in an air-tight container, what happens if you don't, how does the texture change if you add new things - these are all little experiments. With the kiddos being young, it is my job to ask 'what if' questions during play ('what if we mix a red and yellow batch?' 'what if we add some rice to our dough?') for bigger kids they will naturally want to explore and investigate, it is your job to facilitate and encourage this.

6. Creative play - it seems odd that I left this one so far down the list, because this is my biggest passion. As I mentioned before playdough offers a blank canvas for little imaginations to work on. Adding props such as cupcake cases, diggers, spoons or pinecones can transform and inspire playtimes (changing the elements also prolongs the interest in your playtime, every other week we change out some elements to keep it fresh). Even without props, we have made cakes and flowers and icecream and bugs in our playtime. Little kids are predisposed to enjoy creativity; it helps to assert their independence, build confidence, feel pride in their creations, learn about their world, explore and investigate - you know a sheet of paper and a box of crayons is all you need, but don't stop there!

Have I convinced you yet? How about if I tell you that it can be made using stuff you have in your kitchen, will cost pennies, takes <10 mins to prepare, makes a brilliant gift... oh and kids LOVE it.

Below is the recipe we use, the no-cook dough is my favourite, less sticky and less mess to make. Cooked dough lasts longer and is better if you are adding a lot of dry ingredient (coffee or cocoa for exmaple) as it starts off wetter.

I make up a new batch of playdough every couple of weeks, since ours gets so much playtime. I keep old batches in ziploc bags in case I get inspired later (we added glitter to our black Halloween playdough to turn it into Firework Playdough), or donate it to our local Children's Centre. We also have a 'playdough kit' which is basically a wooden crate I fill with props and elements to add to our playtime - I always include plastic cutlery, cookie cutters, pizza cutters and a mini rolling-pin - then changeable elements, sometimes relating to a 'theme' we are looking at at that time - for example, beads, cupcake cases, conkers, pipecleaners, seed kernels, drinking straws, matchsticks, birthday cake candles, christmas baubles, legos - I literally walk around the kitchen and tool cupboard looking for things I think might be fun.

So friends, I hope you're inspired to share some playdough love with your kiddos - I think now is the perfect time - shorter days, wet afternoons, no school or work, plus you'll prob be vaccuuming twice a day what with all the pine needles and wrapping paper.

Enjoy! Your kids will thank you for it in smiles!


  1. I LOVE playdough too! And love to make it with kids and make it special. You have such great ideas and I am really excited to try your no-cook recipe!

  2. Playdough really is great huh! I have a microwave playdough recipe over on my blog! Super easy! :)

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