Play Dough Inventor’s Workshop

Use old electrical cables, loose parts and recycled junk materials to create an imaginary play inventor’s workshop, using play dough as a base material to build and secure. This activity is fantastic for providing open-ended creative play, hands-on investigations, designing and planning, story telling and scientific discoveries! Best of all, as with all great kids activities, it doesn’t cost anything to set up. Win, win!

 Before Christmas Cakie watched a movie called Meet the Robinsons, in which the central character is an inventor. She was totally fascinated by the amazing machines that he drew in his sketchbooks and how he created them from wires and bits and pieces. She started to make her own “inventions” using loose parts that she could find and she dug into our large drawer of odds and ends that included some old tv leads with various coloured ends. She loved these and declared she wanted to design her own “sweetie machine like Willy Wonka!”

She sat at her desk and drew a large plan of what she wanted the machine to look like (I will try and dig out this drawing to add to the post- it’s lovely!), with arrows pointing to various buttons and places that sweets go in and pop out again. I set up an invitation to play on a table top using the following elements:
old tv cables
colloured buttons
bottle tops
jar lids
coloured wool and string
pipe cleaners
cardboard tubes (wrapped in shiny tape, leftover from her Willy Wonka birthday party)
As with all play invitations, I showed them what I had set up and left them to use the materials in any way that appealed to them. Two year old Pop joined her, using her own ball of green play dough, and together they began to build and connect the pieces, using the dough as a stabilising base.
Cakie spent a long time connecting the wires, string and pipe cleaners and making sure that the ends were poked into the holes in the bottle tops and buttons. She ran her fingers along each part, checking they were secured and rearranging them if parts came out or didn’t ‘seem to fit quite right. She narrated what she was doing as she played, using words like “invention” and “machines”, “wires” and “switches” as she figured out her design. She demonstrated to me how to drop ingredients down the pipes, then how the sweets were mixed and made in the tubes and finally where they were dropped out at the end, via a large button! I love the thought processes and design and making skills that were being practised in her play.

 Pop watched her big sister and made her own version suitable to her own stage of development. She squeezed the dough into pieces and pushed in large buttons and jar lids, pipe cleaners and wool, enjoying the sensory and malleable elements of play. She declared “I making sweeties!”

This would make a fun addition to the science and investigation area in the classroom to go along with books or topics about machines, inventors, construction or factories. See below for more ideas.
What they are learning while they play:

Increase the learning opportunities:
  • Add some machine manuals and instruction booklets to provide a context of real-life literacy examples.
  • Add clipboards, pencils, drawing pens, strain, rulers and protractors so they can plot out their designs properly. 
  • Supply children’s digital cameras so they can photograph the step-by-step process of the machine production line
  • Watch a clip of designers and inventors and talk about the tools they use, the materials the parts are made of and what they may be creating.
  • Read aloud the section from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (Roald Dahl) about entering the Invention Room. Ask the children to listen out for descriptions of the machines and to think up their own sweets, toys or other products that could be created in a machine.
  • Make a large scale machine from junk model materials based on their designs.
Read these books along with this play:

The Dragon Machine
Curious George Goes to a Chocolate Factory

Cakie: 4.4
Pop: 2.9


  1. says

    What a wonderful post, love how kids can get so creative! I will definitely try this with my son. Thanks for the book recommendations too, I love combining our activities with a book!

  2. Breanne says

    This looks like so much fun I want to do it! I have always loved play-doh and so do my kids. There is just something freeing about mixing colors and making a mess. It is a bit like yoga for me. Long live play-doh!!!