As well as being a fun and cheap way to keep kids entertained for hours, did you know that playdough is also a great tool for developing essential fine motor skills in young children?
This article will give you some easy ways to make your own playdough at home, and how to make sure your kids are getting the most out of it.
Why home-made playdough is great for young kids
Playdough is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser – you’d be hard-pressed to find a child who doesn’t enjoy it. Playing with the dough can flex your child’s imagination, which is essential for developing their creative thinking.
The physical act of playing with playdough is also an excellent way to hone your child’s fine motor skills – the ability to make small, controlled movements in the hands and wrists. You’ll notice that young toddlers are often clumsy, and can’t hold things well. This is because they’ve yet to develop their fine motor skills.
Playing with playdough involves making small and refined hand movements, so is great practice for things like holding pencils, tying shoes, and doing up buttons.
Making your own playdough at home is actually very simple and inexpensive, as you’ll see in the recipes we’ve included below. It’s a perfect rainy-day activity, and the dough can be reused many times.
How to make playdough at home
You can jazz up your homemade playdough by adding in food coloring, glitter, or even scented oils! Here are three tried-and-tested recipes – the first two will last for months in an airtight container or bag. The third recipe is a kid-friendly uncooked method, but will only last around a week.
Make your own playdough with flour
- Combine 2 cups all-purpose flour, ¾ cup salt, 4 teaspoons cream of tartar, 2 cups lukewarm water, and 2 tablespoons oil (vegetable or coconut) in a large pot.
- Cook over a medium heat.
- Stir constantly until the dough thickens and begins to form a ball.
- Remove it from the heat then place on wax paper – let it cool slightly then knead until smooth.
- At this point, you can divide the dough into balls and add a couple of drops of food coloring to each.
- Wrap in plastic (or place in a baggie) and knead until the color is uniform. If you’re just making one color, you can add the dye with the oil at the beginning.
Make your own playdough with salt
- Mix a cup of salt, a cup of water, and half a cup of flour in a saucepan, with a couple of drops of food coloring.
- Cook over medium heat while stirring continuously.
- Remove from the heat once it becomes rubbery.
- After it cools a little, begin kneading your dough. Add a little extra flour, a tablespoon at a time, until it’s your desired consistency.
Make your own playdough with oatmeal
This recipe is completely kid-friendly, as it doesn’t require a stove. Better yet, it’s complete in just two simple steps!
- In a bowl, combine one part flour with one part water, and add two parts oatmeal.
- Knead it all together until it becomes soft and pliable.
8 Playdough Activities To Encourage Fine Motor Skills
Just messing around with playdough will help your child build fine motor skills.
Pushing, squishing, rolling, and pulling apart the dough will contribute to their hand, arm, and shoulder strength. It will build muscles that are essential for things like handwriting, turning book pages, and sport.
Here are some more guided activities that’ll help focus their playtime toward building fine motor skills.
1. Pinch and pull
The simple act of grasping playdough really helps to train the muscles in little hands.
Have your child take a small piece of dough and squish it between their thumb and finger. It’ll take a bit of strength to pull their fingers apart again – repeat it a few times over and over to help build muscles that are needed for holding pencils.
2. Make a worm
Rolling out a small wad of dough into a skinny worm takes a surprising amount of dexterity.
Kids can roll it out on the table, learning to move their hands together in symmetry. Or they can roll it between their hands, which requires them to move in opposite directions – a tough skill to master!
Making worms also helps with their hand-eye coordination, and takes measured strength to ensure they’re squishing the dough enough but not too much.
3. Make balls
A step up from making a worm, rolling a ball is tricky because kids have to move their hands in opposite directions in a circular pattern while applying the exact right amount of pressure. It’s a lot of work for the brain!
They can then train each hand individually by forming a ball or worm on the table, using only one hand.
4. Form shapes and letters
Take those ball and worm-forming skills and apply them to other areas of your child’s education.
As they begin to learn the alphabet, you can use playdough to spell out letters and words and kill two birds with one stone!
5. Using cookie cutters
Kids can roll out the dough with a rolling pin – a great practice for shoulder strength. They’ll then have to learn to apply the right amount of pressure on the cutters with their hands, which builds body awareness.
6. Find buried treasure
Take a big piece of playdough and stuff it full of small items like coins or beads. Tell your child to dig through it (with their eyes closed for an extra challenge!) and find all the hidden treasure.
Not only does it build finger and hand muscles, but it helps to develop their tactile system which lets us identify items by touch.
7. Cut with scissors
Playdough is actually a great medium for introducing your kid to scissors. Because it’s thicker than paper, it gives more sensory feedback when judging how much pressure to apply. It also creates a lot less mess – just squish all the playdough pieces back together when they’re done!
You could always start out by letting your kids cut up playdough with plastic knives or forks, before progressing to scissors.
8. Build animals
Once toddlers grow up to preschool age, they’ll begin wanting to use playdough for imaginative play.
Their fine motor skills and independent thinking skills are at a level where they’ll be able to make 3D creatures using playdough, along with other materials like beads and toothpicks.
Interested in finding more ways to improve your kids’ fine motor skills?
Explore our top 8 activities and games for fine motor skills to keep them practicing!
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