As an early childhood teacher for over 9 years, before kids, I made a lot of play dough. We all know that kids love play dough, but when young children play with play dough, they are developing all kinds of skills... It strengthens fine motor development by building strength in all those little muscles and tendons in their hands. This is great for developing handwriting strength! Let them stick in some dry spaghetti pieces and have them try to "string" Cheerios on spaghetti...a great fine motor development skill!
It inspires creativity and imagination. Think of all the things that can be made with play dough! Give them additional age appropriate materials to play with in the play dough...buttons, dry spaghetti and other pasta, seashells, rice, googly eyes, rolling pins, cookie cutters, plastic scissors, straws, feathers, plastic animals, birthday candles, cups, muffin tins, cupcake paper liners, lollipop sticks, egg cartons, pieces of nature (sticks, leaves, rocks, pinecones), etc.
It provides a great sensory experience. Think about how calming it is to squish play dough in your hands...even for adults! Add some essential oils (like the peppermint in this recipe) for an ultimate aromatherapy experience!
It can be used to develop language and math skills. Use letter and number cookie cutters to spell their name and count. Form the play dough into different shapes and weights. Make different colors. Have them help you make the play dough...they can count cups, tablespoons, etc. Let them help you measure and pour the ingredients.
Ask children questions to promote discovery and introduce science concepts. When you make the play dough, you're adding solid ingredients (i.e. flour, salt, etc.) to liquid ingredients (i.e. oil, water). Ask them questions..."What do you think will happen next?" Mix different colors of play dough together..."What do you think will happen when I mix the red play dough with the blue play dough?"
My girls, Esme and Ellerie (21.5 months), love to play with play dough. Here is one of our favorite play dough recipes. It is easy to make, a great consistency and perfectly scented for the holiday season!
Peppermint Play Dough Recipe
1 cup flour
1/4 cup salt
2 tablespoons cream of tartar
1 tablespoon peppermint oil extract (you can replace with another scent)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup water
Mix the flour, salt and cream of tartar in a medium sized pot. Add and mix in water, peppermint extract and vegetable oil. Stir consistently over medium heat for about 3-5 minutes, or until mixture begins to form a ball, and remove from heat. Knead dough and allow to cool before giving to young children. Store in a sealed plastic container/bag in the refrigerator.