Play dough is an essential item for kids of all ages, (when I have adults visiting in my classroom they tend to head to the play dough table too) but it has many benefits for preschoolers especially.
Play dough builds the fine motor muscles in the fingers. All that pinching, pounding, rolling, and manipulating is actually the best pre-writing practice.
It's a great sensory experience. Play dough is something that can be experienced with all the senses.
It builds self esteem. Play dough is open-ended. There are no right or wrong answers.
It builds friendship skills. Play dough gives lots of opportunities for sharing.
It builds creativity. Play dough can become anything with a little imagination: food, shapes, animals, bowls, snowmen, etc.
It's a great release for tension and anger. All that pounding, pinching, squeezing, poking is acceptable when done with play dough.
It offers many opportunities to foster language development. You can describe the texture of play dough, talk through what you are doing with it, enter into imaginative play.
The best thing is that play dough is easy to come back and so simple and cheap to make. My favorite recipe for play dough is:
1 c flour
1/2 c salt
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 Tb vegetable oil
1 c water
Mix together flour, salt, and cream of tartar. Color the water and add it along with the oil to the dry ingredients. Cook, stirring, for 1-3 minutes or until thick. Place the dough onto a floured surface and knead as soon as it is cool enough to do so. Keep in an airtight container in refrigerator.
Today I made Kool-Aid Play Dough
2 1/2 c flour
1/2 c salt
2 (4g) pkg unsweetened Kool-Aid mix
2 c boiling water
3 Tb oil
Mix dry ingredients. Add wet ingredients. Mix with spoon until cool enough to knead. I had to knead in quite a bit of flour today. But it was really fun to see the color appear as we added the water. And it is a cool hot pink color and smells wonderful! I used tropical punch kool aid.
I had my three year old son help stir as we made the play dough. I have also made play dough as a cooking experience in preschool. There are some basic states of matter lessons to be learned (yes, that's chemistry in preschool!).
I prefer homemade play dough in my classroom since I know exactly what is in it. We discourage eating the play dough, but in case there is any ingested, I know it is safe.
Play dough is fun without accessories. In fact I try to offer it without accessories often, but the kids know where to find the play dough toys and they prefer to have them. I have also added items like popsicle sticks (this was more fun than I expected), beads, small animals, Mr. Potato Head pieces. Cutting practice is fun with play dough snakes. Play dough snakes can be made into letters, shapes, etc. Play dough balls can be used for counting practice.
I have found a few more fun play dough recipes I want to try especially chocolate play dough and gingerbread play dough. What are your favorite play experiences?