Crozet Play School

Kids at Play in Crozet

For the Love of Play Dough

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We cannot get enough of play dough at school right now!  We love it so much that I wanted to do a post simply about play dough and the importance of this wonderful sensory tool.  As an early childhood educator I truly believe that “play” is young children’s “work” in preschool.  Through play a variety of goals are being reached, worked on and incorporated throughout their play experiences.  By highlighting something as simple as play dough I can better show you exactly how much can be learned through play.

When children are all around the play dough table one of the greatest outcomes is building a sense of friendship and community.  Because children are immersed in a sensory activity that is familiar to them they instantly start talking about what they are working on with their friends around them.  You will hear them saying, “I am making an apple pie”  “I am squashing this play dough down.”  “I am making a snake”  This builds a sense of community and also each child’s own language and vocabulary from these discussions around the play dough table.

Usually I will provide a theme to the play dough and slowly add to it day by day.  The first day I offered the red play dough I put it out with apple tree mats, rolling pins, spoons and scissors, and a pie pan to mimic making apple pies.  Once children have played with the new dough and these materials I slowly start adding or taking away objects to encourage their play. 

Just by offering the play dough in the color red is important too.  It gets us all talking about the color word red, and all of its characteristics.  They also start talking about the smell of the cinnamon, the fall, what other fruits or objects are red in color, etc.    Lots of other vocabulary words start to be discussed while playing, “This smells yummy” “This play dough is soft”  “I turned mine into an apple.”


Many math concepts are learned by playing with play dough.  They can count the apples they made, they can compare and contrast sizes, and start learning many geometric concepts.  You will hear these phrases:  “I made mine the same size.”  “This one is bigger.”  “This piece is heavier.”  “I squished my play dough on top of this piece.”  The important mathematical words they are emphasizing are; up, down, over, under, top, bottom, inside, outside, in front, behind.


This picture shows P rolling her piece of play dough into a snake and then using the scissors for cutting the play dough apart.  This is building her scientific knowledge of the cause and effects of materials.  If I pull or roll the play dough what will happen?  How can I take this object and turn it into something else?  What will happen once I cut this piece of play dough?  How many pieces can I make?  The concepts keep building and building on each other!


This picture shows L squishing the play dough with her fingers.  Play dough offers a lot of opportunity to build children’s fine motor strength.  Fine motor is the coordination of small muscle movements in hands and fingers.  Children need to build this strength so they can properly hold pencils, markers, scissors, hole punchers, and staplers.  Every time L is squishing the play dough down she is slowly building this very important muscle group!


In the first few weeks of school I had a coconut play dough tray out for exploration.  I added these fun sea creatures to the play dough tray for an added element.  These sea creatures gave the children lots of vocabulary words to work on and discuss.  “Where should I put my star fish?”  “What is this grass stuff?”  “What’s a coral reef?”  It was fun to see them working together to explore the sea life pieces and how they each used them differently in their play dough. 

Many of the children started to act out little scenes with their sea creatures.  This is building the foundation of early literacy and pre-writing skills.  Children begin this by acting out or dictating stories through play.  This is then transferred to paper and pencil writing as they grow older.


Along with the sea creatures I also had gems out for the children to put in their play dough.  I put clear and white gems to go with our coconut and beach theme.  In the above picture you can see that C spent a great deal of time squishing all of her gems down into the play dough.


This picture shows the amount of concentration and care that M is taking to cut her play dough apart.  Play is work for them!  It takes a lot of muscles and brain power to cut apart the play dough.


Overall play dough covers all of these learning concepts in the preschool:

social and emotional development (cooperation, self-control, building social relationships)

creative arts (art and dramatic play)

language development


mathematical concepts (numbers and operations, geometric concepts)

literacy (print awareness and pre-writing)

physical health (fine motor skills)

This is an impressive list of concepts we learn through playing with play dough!  I have had a number of parents ask me about my play dough recipes and where I find all of my added materials for my play dough.  I am going to include my basic home-made play dough at the end of this post for you to make at home if you wish!

I am always on the lookout for great things to add to my play dough trays!  Many of the gems and items I find at craft stores such as Michaels and Jo-Anns.  The gems are usually in the flower areas for making flower arrangements.  Some of the rocks I have found at Lowe’s or in the gardening area at Walmart.  The little leaves that I added to the red play dough were actually part of a pumpkin and fall set for Michaels.  I just removed the pumpkins for now and only included the leaves with the apple play dough. 

Other items that I love to include on the play dough tray are: 



pieces of sequence

natural materials such as sticks, rocks, sea shells, acorns, nuts, spices, sticks of cinnamon


craft sticks for cutting or slicing or writing marks/letters in the dough

cupcake liners (silicone cupcake liners work best)

candles for pretend play

textured rolling pins found here @ discount school supply

straws long and cut apart straws

potato masher or other kitchen tools for making marks in the dough

toy cars and trucks for making marks in the dough

pom poms


animal figures or plastic people figures for imaginative play

 I will share more of my play dough tray ideas as the year goes on! 

The Best Play Dough Recipe: 

For my parents, this is the play dough recipe that I have used for this school year.  This is my Favorite play dough recipe. It super soft, easy for children to manipulate, and cooks up quickly.   Mix the wet ingredients over the stove, mix the dry ingredients in a bowl, then slowly combine while heating on the stove.  Once it starts to pull away from the pan and stick together put it on a piece of wax paper to cool down.  If the color isn’t fully mixed don’t worry!  Once you start to knead the play dough together the color will disperse throughout the dough.  This dough will last roughly up to four months!  I just keep my play dough in a large ziplock bag when we aren’t using it.

2 1/2 cups flour
2 1/2 cups water
1 1/4 cup salt
1 1/2 Tablespoons cream of tartar
5 tablespoons oil (vegetable or canola)


Apple pie play dough: add red food coloring and cinnamon extract while cooking the dough

Coconut play dough: add coconut extract while cooking the play dough

Chocolate or Mud play dough:  substitute one cup of cocoa for one of the cups of flour, keep the rest of the recipe the same!  it will cook up smelling like chocolate and looking like mud!

Lemon play dough:  add lemon extract while the play dough is cooking and dye the dough yellow

Add glitter to your play dough for some added fun!

Have fun “playing” at home too!

One thought on “For the Love of Play Dough

  1. Love this play dough! I can’t wait to make it at home. Thanks for posting the recipe!

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