Play Dough Learning Mats for Literacy and Numeracy Development

We all know that play dough is tactile, fun and great for all multi-sensory early developmental play. But it can also be used in creative, playful ways to promote early literacy and numeracy skills in a hands on way. There really is no need for worksheets when we have such a great resource to hand!

Here are some super easy play dough mats that I made for the kids to practise counting, measuring, sorting, comparing, ordering, matching, letter recognition and formation and general creative good fun!
I started off by making some really simple numeral cards. I used the rainbow paper garlands that we made for Pop’s Rainbow party and simply wrote a number on each piece, from 1-20. Then I laminated them and cut them out and they make a nice, sturdy set of cards for reusing in many different activities.

To make the literacy and numeracy mats I drew a range of creatures and objects that could be interacted with in an open-ended way, using the cards alongside them.

First I made a simple bumble bee, without stripes, for the girls to add the appropriate number of stripes to. There is an extra challenge that can be added in here for an extension activity, of making the stripes the correct length to fit across the width of the bee’s body! Cakie picked a number card as part of a fun game, put it on her playmate, then rolled and added the correct number.

Next she added apples (or any chosen fruit) to an empty tree, using a numeral card in the same way as before. She had to go back and recount these a few times to make sure she reached the right total. Play dough is great for practising 1:1 counting correspondence as it can either be moved or squashed as it is counted, helping the child to know they have already visited that object.

We used black play dough to create the right number of spots to add to the ladybird’s wings. As an extra extension activity you could ask the child to make the spots match on either side to create a symmetrical pattern. You could also use this to make number bonds to 5, 10 or 20 in a variety of combinations.

Cakie’s favourite play mat was, of course, the empty cake! We used this to roll out candles to add, but it could have strawberries, sprinkles or any other topping instead. Open-ended fun!

The snake family are a fun way of comparing lengths and C. found it quite a challenge to roll the correct length of dough to match each one. She had to go back and adjust lengths by removing or re-rolling each time and it was very interesting to watch her thinking skills as she worked.

Similar cards could be made for exploring thicknesses, heights and sizes.

The empty clock face is a simple way of introducing the time to young children, as is another good way for practising making short and long lengths of dough when creating the hands. This could be used to match times on another clock face, match numeral cards or create times that go with certain times of day e.g. ask your child “can you show me bed time/ school time/ lunch time?” etc
I made a whole set of alphabet learning mats by simple drawing bubble letters for each grapheme in both upper and lower case. These are great for talking about letters, recognising and sounding them out and for re-creating using a very tactile, hands on method. To fill in the blank spaces Cakie had to roll out the dough into thin sausage shapes, then curl and bend around on the mats. 
And the final mat was just for pure good fun! An empty head shape for creating funny faces, hair and emotions. Cakie said “this man is peeping out at us!” It could be used for creating long/ short hair, different coloured eyes, or counting out additional extras such as teeth, earrings or hair bows!
Learning links:
  • literacy: recognising, naming and sounding out letters, grapheme/phoneme correspondence
  • maths: comparing and sorting by length, thickness and size / counting out objects up to 20 / counting reliably using 1:1 correspondence¬†
  • physical: fine motor co-ordination while rolling, squeezing and balling up the dough

Cakie: 3 years 9 months
Pop: 2 years 2 months
Bean: 16 weeks

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  1. says

    I think this might be my favorite of all the play dough activities this week. I especially love the ladybug and the bee! Such cute and simple activities.

  2. says

    Thanks so much these are fantastic and so useful. I feel so lost at times. Thanks to your wonderful site – I have some great activities to do this week.


  3. says

    Look for something easy to clean. Most of these mats are made of rubber and foam which can be easily cleaned with soap and water. However, new innovations are now also available, so if you can find some that are easier to maintain, that can also be a great choice.