6 Benefits of PlayDough | 10 Ways to Use PlayDough in Skill Development

Benefits of Playdough

Play Dough is such a great thing for kids and adults. There are many ways to foster development in many skill areas.

In looking for benefits of playdough for adults, it really is the same list as children. As far as activities, I don’t worry too much about what is age-appropriate. If the person enjoys the activity and is experiencing the developmental benefits, then who cares? Call it clay if someone has a problem with using the word playdoh.

playdough in many different colors

Developmental Benefits of Playdough

  • Working with clay can help develop fine motor skills and hand strength.
  • It can be calming for children and adults to manipulate the playdough with their hands.
  • Playdough can help support language development and social skills.
  • It can encourages creativity and be an open-ended activity.
  • Working with clay can enhance hand-eye coordination and following directions (depends if it is free play or structured activity).
  • Can help work through sensory aversions or satisfy sensory cravings. There are even special therapy doughs sold that have specific scents.

Using Playdough in Therapy

I’m using the term “therapy” very generously. I’m a Mom. I don’t necessarily think that I’m providing therapy to my child, since I’m not a therapist. However, we are doing beneficial activities together. And, they are activities that he likely wouldn’t have done on his own, without me initiating.

Playdough Activities

  1. Hand Strength– Working and manipulating dough in your hands is a great way to increase hand strength. You can even have them work on arm strength if the dough is particularly tough to work with, such as rolling it with a rolling pin, which takes more than the hands.
  2. Sensory-Different recipes of playdough will feel differently in a child’s hands. And, of course they will have different smells. You can even add essential oils to some of them to change the smell.
  3. Redirection-Have a child exhibiting unwanted behavior? Get out some playdough and redirect them. They can bang out their frustrations on a lump of playdough instead of their classmate. It can get them out of a rut of destructive or negative thinking if they enjoy working with the playdough.
  4. Language and Literacy-Talk about what they are making. Talk about colors, scents. Make letters and numbers out of the clay, or flatten out a sheet of dough and carve the letters with a pencil or popsicle stick. Trying having the person make letters with the clay, such as is suggested with the Orton Gillingham Approach.
  5. Story telling and Sequencing-The person can either build a scene/set out of the clay and tell you about it, or give them sequential steps of a task you want them to complete. Don’t be afraid to introduce other things into the playdough such as little army guys or other plastic figures, to help with stories and sequencing. You can also use sequencing if they are helping you follow the directions or recipe to make the playdough, or if you are doing a multi-step activity such as first making the playdough, then a creation, then drying and decorating that creation.
  6. Fine and Gross Motor– Building, rolling, shaping, making…depending on the complexity of the task, a child can hone in on both fine and gross motor skills. You can add all sorts of things to your playdough-small plastic figures, rocks/stones, beads, buttons, punch holes in your creation and add a ribbon to hang…so much can be tied in to these activities.
  7. Bilateral Coordination-Many kids struggle to use both hands at the same time to complete a task. Think of holding a steak steady on your plate with a fork in one hand, and slicing it with a knife in the other. That is a set of coordination skills that many take for granted. This is a task that can be practiced repeatedly using playdough.
  8. Imaginary Play-  So many kids on the spectrum struggle with this. Playdough can be a great way to create “pretend” things and talk about them. Make fake money or fake food with your dough and act out scenarios.
  9. Creativity– We also all know of that one kid on the spectrum with rigid thinking and no creativity–the one who can build the most complex Lego creation following the directions, but hand them a bucket of Legos without directions and they can’t build a thing. Hand them a few lumps of playdough and encourage conversation and creativity. No blueprints except those that exist in the mind. You can also choose a recipe that you know will harden if you leave it out, and then consider painting it when it dries. Get small stones, beads, sequins, buttons or other kids of embellishments to put on the creation before it dries. The possibilities are endless and children may need just a few prompts to get them going.
  10. Social Skills– Do this as a small group. Set ground rules such as no judging, no criticizing, no “that’s stupid, why did you make that?” Have the kids each make something and then they have to tell the others about it. Have them work in pairs to collaboratively come up with something.

 And of course, it’s always fun and fine to just play with it! Sometimes us grownups forget that.

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Benefits of Making your own Playdough

Over the years, I have tried several recipes for making your own playdough. Honestly, not a huge fan. Mind you, if you get stuck inside on a rainy day and have all the ingredients, it is an activity you can do in an instant. That, I like.

However, I find the homemade stuff doesn’t last as long. It hardens and dries out quicker. The colors are also not as vibrant, in my opinion.

But, something to think about. If you make your own, then you actually have an “activity before the activity.” You can use math, science, reading and language, sensory…all kinds of things take place before you even get to the playdough activities.

So that is a benefit, for sure. Nothing like a day when you don’t want to leave the house and your child proclaims “I’m bored.” Then your own recipe for clay will come in handy. From what I remember, it’s flour, salt, oil, water, starch and maybe a few other items. But those ingredients are in many of the recipes and I usually have them on-hand.

I just never found a best homemade recipe for playdough that I just loved and wanted to make again and again. Plus, I hate when the kids do activities with food dyes. They stain.

But, I find that most clay and products sold online is relatively inexpensive if you take care of it. (read: close the containers when you’re done!)

You should read lists of playdoh ingredients if allergens are a concern.

Happy molding and playing!

developmental benefits of playdough

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  • Fine Motor Skills-Games, crafts and coloring activities are a great way to use and practice a child’s fine motor skills.
  • Speech and Language– Many parents seek out a language-rich environment for their child. Any activity can be an opportunity to use and repeat new words and language, mimicking sounds, new vocalizations and articulations.
  • Executive Functioning Skills– Depending on the game or activity, it can be an opportunity to practice executive functions such as working memory, sequencing, following directions, task initiation and more.
  • Handwriting and Fluency- This piggybacks onto the language skills a child needs, but with worksheets, coloring pages and games, they can be a low-risk opportunity to practice handwriting and fluency.
  • Practicing Previously Acquired Skills-Applying already acquired skills across all environments, bring the classroom teaching into the real world.
  • Sensory-Textures, sounds, taste, vestibular, interoception, anything!
  • Social Awareness-Practice traditional social skills in a safe environment, such as: joint attention, taking turns, reciprocating conversation, waiting politely, and more.
  • Gross Motor-If you’re in a new place, practice walking across uneven surfaces, new surfaces, inclines & declines, stairs, or increasing endurance.

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