Some of my clearest memories from early childhood are of standing on a stool in the kitchen next to my Mum, helping her stir ingredients into a bowl to make a wonderful, colourful, sticky dough. I don’t even remember playing with it, but just the making of it with her was enough of a powerful memory to stay with me for nearly 30 years.
For generations our mothers and grandmothers have been making play dough. Why? Because it is cheap, easy and provides hours of fun for little people. But more than that, it can be used to support every area of the curriculum, promote imaginative play and develop the small hand muscles vital for fine motor control. When teaching we would always encourage children who struggled with writing, colouring and cutting to do more playing with malleable materials. Every squeeze, pinch, poke and roll strengthens those little hands.
So, with that said, I have been making play dough for Cakie since she turned 1. At that age she wanted to eat it (of course!) and most of our play time was spent reminding her not to do that thank-you-very- much. But even at that age, the experience of handling, smelling and licking the dough is good for all areas of early development and beginning to become curious about everything in the world! Now we make it together, her standing on a chair next to me, taking it in turns to mix the ingredients with our hands and big wooden spoons. We count together as we add the cups of flour and salt and water, and learn new vocabulary as we go. She adds the colouring and flavouring and exclaims “oooos” and “yums” as she does so.
Here are my favourite play dough recipes. The first is particularly easy because it does not require cooking, yet it lasts for a long time and has a really nice, stretchy, non-sticky consistency. (If you have ever made play dough before you will know how important those things are!)
The second is a cooked dough recipe which lasts longer. Both can be stored in an air-tight container and used repeatedly until they begin to dry out or get too grubby! My current batch has lasted at least 5 weeks and is still going strong.
We are just beginning to experiment with the huge variety of activities that can be done using dough, and no doubt it is a subject I shall return to repeatedly. Just look at these fabulous social skills!
Here is Cakie playing together with her best bud J. Sharing the cookie cutters and rolling pins, “talking” in their own little language about what they are making, laying out their creations next to each other and congratulating each other with “yays!”
Our growing (and somewhat random) assortment of cutters, pins and mark makers. Forks and pizza cutters make great pattern makers!
J showing his excellent little collection of cut out shapes.
I’ll make a few incisions and holes with a knife here.
And here we are playing outside and incorporating the dough into role-play. I suggested making cakes for a little bakery. The only additional item we needed was a muffin tray (and a pizza cutter for good measure!)
I rolled lots of different sized balls and tried to show C how to do it. She had a good go at it, then enjoyed squashing mine.
Having a good squish and squeeze and learning some new language at the same time. “Sgish it mummy”.
Experimenting with the pizza cutter.
“Ta da!” Cakes with embellishments all ready to be baked in the toy oven.
Learning new ways to pick it up and use it to become something else in play.
Ooh these pencils stick in here nicely too!
And now I have an ice cream!
Making holes with pencils.
Maybe she’s not too old for a little taste! After all, it does smell like strawberries!
Yet another play dough occasion! Look at those fine motor skills being developed!
Adding little coloured, wooden match sticks not only looks lovely but is very good for developing the pincer grip between thumb and forefinger.
If you have fun with playdough too I would be interested to hear your thoughts and ideas!