Why we play with... Playdough

Date: 16th Nov 2016 @ 9:16pm

As a nursery teacher i often hear - 'oh arent they so cute' (which they are), 'how lucky are you getting to play all day', 'nursery is just playing'.. but these mini people are capable, independent little things and it is inbuilt in them to problem solve, persevere with challenges and think critically - so i thought i would  take the time to briefly explain why it is important for nursery children to have a play based curriculum in the EYFS. Firstly, its the law - all children are entitiled to learn through vital and stimulating play experiences. Children at this age are not developmentally ready to read and write, they need to build the skills in the areas of Personal Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development and Communication and Language before any formal education begins. It is vital that their well being is high, they are happy, they can socialise, share, use the toilet, etc etc for them to be able to succeed in later education. 

Im going to begin by explaining why we have certain areas in Nursery.

This week i will be talking about playdough! 

We all know that play dough is fun and popular with young children, but apart from making a lovely mess - what is it good for and why do we have a play-dough station in Nursery? Here is an overview of the fabulous benefits of playing with dough and the many learning opportunities that happen along the way!

The malleable properties of play dough make it fun for investigation and exploration as well as secretly building up strength in all the tiny hand muscles and tendons, making them ready for pencil and scissor control later. As part of simple, tactile play it can be squashed, squeezed, rolled, flattened, chopped, cut, scored, raked, punctured, poked and shredded! Each one of these different actions aids fine motor development in a different way, not to mention hand-eye co-ordination and general concentration. And as soon as you add another element to it, the list of possibilities is endless.

Having a wide range of additional extras to use while playing extends the investigation and play possibilities infinitely. Poking in sticks provides a challenge and a new physical skill. Squeezing through a garlic press leads to wonder and amazement at seeing it change shape, as well as using a gross motor movement to accomplish it. Sticking in spaghetti requires a delicate hand and can lead to threading and stacking pasta shapes or beads over the top. 

Providing boxes and containers with various shaped compartments can lead to cooking play, sorting, matching, ordering and counting, all naturally and without pressure to learn. By providing objects from nature with a wide range of textures, colours and shapes, children can have multi-sensory experiences and engage with the world around them in a whole new way - the benefits and creative play possibilities continues to grow!

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but all of these elements can be used to create plenty of exciting, open-ended play times:

toy creatures
rolling pins, plastic knives, scissors, pizza cutters
cupcake cases in different sizes
coloured and natural feathers
pine cones, sticks, bark, leaves
 muffin tins, egg cartons, chocolate boxes,
small cups and shot glasses
alphabet, number and shape cookie cutters
pasta shapes
glass pebbles
toy vehicles
wooden letters and numbers
fabric, netting and ribbons
match sticks and lolly sticks

Imagination and Creativity:
As soon as you introduce open ended play items to add to the mix, play dough becomes the perfect medium for numerous types of imaginative play and can represent so many things in a child’s eyes. A jar of candles and cupcakes cases leads naturally to birthday party role-play, counting out candles and singing! Glass pebbles can lead to sea-side imaginative small world play with story elling about sea creatures and mermaids - it can be used 
as chocolate in a sweet shop, cakes and bread in a bakery, grass and mud in a garden centre, ice cream in van, soil, pebbles, ice or snow at the zoo/ jungle/ farm/ ocean and so on! The list is as endless as a child’s imagination!

List of additional flavours and textures to add to play dough:

scents and colours
cocoa powder
fruit juices
food colouring
food flavouring
essential oils
kool aid

cous cous
coriander seeds
poppy seeds
sesame seeds
rock salt
tiny pasta
glitter glue

Calming and soothing:
As any adult who has played with dough can tell you, the effects of all that squeezing and pummelling are great for stress relief and can feel extremely therapeutic! Little children can struggle to express their emotions and using dough while talking and singing can really help that process.


Maths and Literacy development: 

In more focused play, play dough can be used as a fantastic way to practise letter and number work. Children can form letters of the alphabet, spell out their own name, make numbers, form 2D and 3D shapes, compare lengths/ thicknesses/ weightscount out rolled balls to match numeral cards, match and sort by colour and SO many more ideas too!

Science and Discovery:
The actual act of making the play dough together with your child can lead to lots of questioning and prediction skills. Here we have some solid materials (flour, salt etc) to which we are going to add some liquids (oil, water.) What do you think will happen? What can we make? The child gets to explore and observe the changing state of materials in a hands-on way, and be filled with wonder as the bowl of unrelated ingredients comes together to form a sticky then smooth and squishy ball of dough! We often take these things for granted, but in the eyes and hands of a child that’s quite some transformation! 

Following a recipe and instructions, counting out cups, stirring and mixing and just being able to spend time on a collaborative project with an adult are all meaningful and important experiences too. 

We are not 'just playing' - i promise!! 

Thanks for reading - and goodnight... 

Miss Kelbie 

North Walkden Primary School

Worsley, Manchester, Lancs, M28 3QD

General Enquiries - Mrs L Nolan - 0161 921 2921

SENDCo - Mrs Emma Cosgrave - 0161 9212921

0161 921 2921[email protected]