Dough, store bought or homemade is a toy and resource that is often forgotten and should be in every home, all the time if you have young children. Children love squishing and squeezing and banging on this stuff. You can find a million different recipes online.
Some people add Kool-Aid or essential oils for smell or food coloring for color. Or if you are really brave, let your child experiment with ingredients and see what consistency they come up with on their own. Children enjoy measuring, pouring and stirring ingredients. If you aren’t afraid of a little extra mess, this will keep them busy even longer! Pro-tip, if you are bothered by colors being mixed together, then don’t bother to offer multiple colors at first. If you do, choose two colors that mix well, because that is exactly what will happen within the first hour.
When toddlers and preschools are first learning about playdough, the expectation should be very basic. All they really need is their hands to practice pushing, pulling, ripping, smushing. If you start introducing toys, keep it simple and minimal. The youngest children also love transferring it back and forth from one container to another. Or just taking it in and out of a container with a lid.
Children love sticking things into dough. They are easily inspired with just one or two tools or accessories. Google eyes, pipe cleaner, pebbles, You can also give them scissors to practice holding, opening and shutting scissors in a fun way. Strong hand muscles are really important for writing later on.
I repeat LESS is more. Don’t hurry out and buy them from all the marketed food shops and kits. These are designed for them to use in only one way, which can reduce their creativity and they will likely get bored quicker than you expect.
Modeling your own creations to them can be inspiring or discouraging. It is easy for them to feel frustrated if they want to mimic what you are creating and their hands aren’t ready yet. Please choose something appropriate to their age and ability. The first thing that a child usually can learn to do is make a pancake. They love to slap it with their hand with a smack, smack, smack.
Then they eventually move on to a snake or even a ball. A favorite game of mine is to make a bowl or nest for them and ask them to fill it with “peas” or “eggs.” Rolling playdough into a ball is a harder skill than one might think for a young child. Applying the exact right amount of pressure so they don’t flatten it.
One preschool I visited had a whole buffet of accessories and supplies for the children to add to their creations. The children had glue, paint, beans, glitter that they were just piling on. They then got to take their creation home. Not sure how long it took them to dry, but the activity made happy children and very sticky creations. This made even me question my own comfort zone a little.
As we are going into Fall and children are heading off to preschool or elementary school. Consider having some playdough available for your child when they get home from school. It can be very therapeutic. You might be surprised how much your older child still enjoys playing with playdough as well to destress after a busy day at school. Take a few minutes if you can to play with them. Or have them working at the table while you cook dinner, and little bits of information about their day might just trickle out while you both work.
Jessica Lewis is the owner and lead teacher of a small private preschool in Wilton. She has a B.S. in Early Childhood Education. She and her husband have two boys of their own and she is inspired by children and enjoy learning and growing along with them.