Play dough is a childhood staple and can keep kids busy for hours as they use their imaginations. Using play dough is a fun pastime that can be enjoyed by children of varying ages in numerous ways.

Let’s discuss the developmental benefits of playing with dough at a young age.

What play dough teaches kids

Playing with playdough at home or school promotes learning and early childhood development. Children experiment with playdough to generate ideas, satisfy curiosity, and examine and solve issues. Children develop their imagination tree when playing with play dough. As a child works with dough, they develop skills that are required for later skills and school readiness.

Instead of letting your kids watch TV all day, give them play dough and encourage them to spend time away from the screen. Playing with play dough helps kids slow down and pay attention to what they are doing. Keep children occupied as they use a lot of their senses and skills while they are busy rolling and playing with playdough.

What skills does play dough develop in early childhood?

Fine motor skills

Before kids can learn to write at school, they need to build up their finger muscles and learn how to control those little muscles. During preschool, they play in different ways that help them build the same muscles. One of the benefits of playdough is to improve fine motor development or pincer grasp is play dough, which they can shape, flatten, squeeze, pinch, break, and roll.

Give your child more tools to play with, like cutters, plastic knives, and rolling pins. They can also add things to their projects, like beads, buttons, and shells. All of these help them improve their physical development and fine motor development even more.


Watch kids be creative as they play with play dough. Younger kids will often start making simple things like worms, pancakes, pizza, and balls. As they get older, a child’s imagination widens and their play dough creations tend to get a lot more complicated. Children use symbolic thinking and they pretend that the play dough is something else like birthday cake. When using playdough with friends, the creations can even have many more different characters and structures.

This imaginative play is an important skill for children’s cognitive flexibility and communication abilities.

Hand-eye coordination

Children also learn hand-eye coordination as they use their hands to shape play dough as they are intentionally looking and manipulating at the same time.

Some actions that children can do when shaping play dough that improves hand-eye coordination are:

  • pulling, squeezing and squishing dough
  • pounding or hammering – flatten a ball of dough with either hands or both hands
  • rolling – make balls, spaghetti, sausages, worms/snakes or balls
  • chopping and cutting

Literacy and numeracy

Younger children begin to familiarise themselves with different letters and numbers as they progress through different learning styles. As they are shaping play dough, they can do several exercises that involve playing with play dough.

For numeracy, you can ask a child to roll 10 balls, add 2 sticks, construct a 3D shape, or practise addition and subtraction.

A child can even spell their own name using playdough or count out rolled balls to match number flash cards or familiar items. The amazing ideas that children develop will be only limited by their creativity.

Speech and language

Playdough play helps improve a child’s speech and language abilities as they learn new vocabulary words regarding new concepts. They can describe texture to their early years teacher and connect simple ideas to new vocabulary terms.

Children playing with different materials will come across words such as “chop”, “roll”, “flatten” or “rolling pin”. As they chat with their peers, they naturally improve their literacy and organically reap the benefits of playdough the more they interact with others.

Critical thinking

A child’s development can be challenging, especially when they need to apply critical thinking in their play. When kids play with dough, they can do whatever they want. They decide what they want to learn and how they want to learn it. There are many problems that can only be solved by thinking outside the box. By playing with play dough, they can try things out and find solutions or make mistakes.

What are the other benefits of play dough in early learning?

Therapeutic and calming

Playdough can help children shift from loud play to quiet time and relaxation. Its texture, which is soft and springy, is very therapeutic, soothing and relaxing.

It reduces stress and helps anxious children as playing with play dough is soothing. The gooey mix transform with more flour and is used in most early childhood education setting. You can add essential oils such as lavender, eucalyptus or other scents to playdough. Use cool colours to make it more relaxing and add to the benefits of playing.

Sensory learning experiences

Playing with playdough can cause good sensory overload! There are so many things to look at, touch or smell. You can add essential oils but even the salty smell can already be enticing to young children.

There are many different touch experiences with play dough especially when combined with other items or ornaments.

Some kids will even try to eat their playdough! Although small amounts won’t hurt them too much, you should still stop them from trying to eat it.

Cognitive development

Using playdough helps in making decisions based on what you’ve thought about a situation. Educators can ask questions like, “What did you make with the playdough?” By asking the child open ended questions, the teacher helps the child use their imagination and cognitive skills to come up with answers.

Children will talk about what they made and why they made it. Each of them uses their intelligence and language and communication skills to understand and to be understood. There is no right or wrong way to play which also allows self-esteem to develop in the process of play. Read about EYLF Principles.

Social development

One of the more significant ways that playing with play dough increases learning opportunities in children is that it offers children the chance to practise their social skills. It keeps kids busy while they learn pre-writing skills.

Most of the time, kids play with playdough together. The kids will talk about what they did and share their ideas in a child care centre. They get to play fun games that are related to stories, which helps them learn more about the real world and how a child should interact with each other.

Children can make each other gifts or make things together which have the same theme.

Promotes playtime

In today’s technology-driven environment, children are always drawn to the newest toy or piece of electronic equipment. Instead of allowing your children to spend the entire day in front of the television, provide them with play dough and encourage them to spend time alone.

The use of play dough encourages children to take their time and concentrate on the activity of playing while also engaging a number of their senses and developing a variety of skills.

Play dough activity ideas

Gingerbread play dough

Begin with a no-cook easy playdough recipe and add gingerbread spices. You can experiment with the quantities of spices when making playdough.

Using the gingerbread play dough, provide children with gingerbread cookie cutters! The dough will naturally become a rich brown color, no need for food coloring, and smells good enough to eat!


Using other elements with playdough gives children opportunities to explore ideas. Loose parts or ornaments can increase creativity and provide a multi-sensory experience. Some examples of ornaments and tools that can be used are:

  • objects from nature – stones, sticks, pebbles, pine cones, bark, shells, and leaves
  • things from the classroom – wooden letters and wooden blocks
  • ornaments for creating characters – google eyes, sequins, buttons, cloth, nets, and ribbons
  • items from the kitchen – coloured rice, dry pasta, drinking straws, lids, cake cases, cookie cutters, egg cartons, and muffin tins

Lego play dough

Another fun thing to do is to build pictures out of playdough. Simply roll out a piece of playdough into a thin layer like a blank canvas and then press LEGO bricks into it. Children can form an image, design, or abstract artwork. You can also instruct the child to cut the dough into different shapes before putting in LEGO bricks.

You can also experiment with both sides of the LEGO and with LEGOs of varying sizes and shapes. Take a picture of the playdough creation and store it digitally.

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