Benefits of Playing with Playdough

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Playdough. Such a simple toy, and yet, it’s a time-tested kid-favorite. Even with all the technology available at their fingertips, children love to spend hours playing with the moldable, foldable, colorful dough. 

As much as kids love the stuff, parents tend to be a little weary. It’s hard to clean up, gets stuck in the carpet, and inevitably, all the colors get mixed together, and you’re left with a lot of brown playdough. 

So, is playdough really worth the hassle? The short answer is yes. 

Let Me Count The Ways

There are so many ways that playing with playdough benefits your child. 

#1 Fine Motor Development

Playdough is a fantastic way for children to strengthen their hand and finger muscles. Every time they squeeze, roll and poke the dough, their tiny muscles grow and develop.

Since playdough is highly malleable, kids have a lot of options for play, including working with tools and other items. Cutting playdough is an ideal way to practice scissor skills, and even the simple act of poking sticks into the dough and taking them out again helps develop the pincer grasp. 

The manipulation of the dough also puts deep pressure on their joints, giving them a workout and making their movements more flexible. This flexibility will help dexterity in typing, and other fine motor focused tasks. 

#2 Multi-Sensory Experience

Kids love to explore, and research has proved that children learn more when they experience things with multiple senses. Playdough is an activity that engages multiple senses at once, allowing children to make strong connections through their play. 

In addition to offering tactile, hands-on exploration, play dough also comes in eye-catching colors that children love. It’s easy to add scents to the dough as well, hitting your child’s sense of smell and enhancing their experience. 

When playing with playdough, there is no end to the number of additional toys and tools you can use. Beads, sticks, pinecones, flowers, rolling pins, leaves, truly the sky is the limit, and each item offers another texture, smell, and even taste.

#3 Language Development and Social Interaction

Children find common ground with playdough, making shapes, sharing tools, and admiring one another’s work. Even for younger kids who are more likely to engage in solitary or parallel play as opposed to cooperative play, playdough encourages interaction without forcing kids too far out of their comfort zones.

Kids need to talk, but sometimes, they don’t have the words to share. Playdough is perfect for vocabulary and language development because children can talk about what they create with their parents or playmates. 

These conversations will help build your child’s vocabulary and allow them to express their ideas to others in a more effective way. Anytime your child can talk about something they made, they have the opportunity to boost their self-confidence and communication skills. 

#4 Literacy Skills

As a former preschool teacher, I can tell you that there is no end to the creativity teachers employ to help kids learn their letters and increase their reading abilities. Playdough definitely plays a role in this, especially for younger kids. 

Playdough can be rolled into letter shapes, stamped with magnetic letters, and use small manipulatives to create and practice making their letters. You can find tons of playdough literacy activities online to help your child grow.

kid playing with playdough

#5 STEM Concepts

Yup, it’s not just language and literacy. Math and science skills get a boost from playdough play as well. 

Not only can you use measurements and chemistry to make your own playdough, but even the store-bought variety allows kids to learn colors, shapes, comparison, sorting, and many other math and science type skills. 

Playdough encourages children to use design and engineering concepts to create the ideas they have in their head. What shapes are needed to make the finished product? Does it need to be bigger or smaller? This is the type of thinking that is inspired by playdough. 

#6 Enhances Hand-Eye Coordination

Children know they can create anything that pops into their imagination while playing with playdough. The ability to recreate the ideas in their head takes a lot of coordination. Since playing with playdough often involves both hands, it is an activity that increases bilateral coordination, where both hands are working together. 

Many playdough accessories and tools require significant hand-eye coordination, from the little play knives they use to make cuts, to the presser that turns the playdough into long strings of spaghetti. 

Both the tools and plain old fashion hand manipulation allow children to practice using their hands and eyes simultaneously, as well as improve their spatial and geometric reasoning.  

#7 Helps Focus and Concentration

Young children have short attention spans. The increased use of technology and high-stimulation activities have had a negative impact on many children’s abilities to concentrate for a prolonged period of time. 

Because of its open-ended nature, regular playdough play can actually increase your child’s capacity for focused activity. One minute, the playdough is a ball, and the next it’s a flat pancake, then it’s a snake. The ability to transform the dough allows children to follow their own thinking, thus engaging them for more extended periods. 

#8 Creativity and Imagination

When a child follows their thoughts, creativity blossoms, open-ended toys such as playdough encourage children to use their imaginations and delve deep, creating the play and exploration on their own. 

As I previously mentioned, there are tons of accessories you can buy to play with playdough, and you can also supplement with items from nature, or even your own kitchen. While giving children these tools can inspire kids, these items aren’t necessary for making playdough a fun and engaging activity. 

Kids are resourceful and will find new ways to use the playdough, whether it be using the tile floor to make a smooth pancake or trying to stamp the playdough with the treads of their shoes, innovation will always find a way when given the opportunity. 

#9 Emotional Expression

If you’ve ever used a stress ball, worked with clay, or kneaded dough, you know how therapeutic the simple acts of pushing, squeezing, and rolling can be. 

Playdough can help children release excess stress and anxiety, by giving them something physical to do with their hands, as well as providing a medium with which to express themselves. 

Any type of creative play helps kids, especially young ones, process their feelings and emotions positively and productively.

#10 Promotes Playtime

The benefits of playing with playdough are many and varied, but at the end of the day, none of it matters if kids aren’t interested. For me, the most notable playdough benefit is that it makes kids want to play. 

Playdough is an active, engaging activity. It’s not something children can just watch or do passively. No, with playdough, they are in the driver’s seat, making decisions and determining where the play goes. 

Playtime is precious, and most kids don’t get enough of it, so anything that makes them want to play is pure gold. 

Maximize the Benefits, Minimize the Mess

So playdough is excellent. It’s a phenomenal toy that enhances your child’s physical, social, and emotional development. 

But that doesn’t make it clean or easy. 

If you’re still a little wary of breaking out the playdough regularly, try a few of these tips to help minimize the mess. 

  1. Use a mat or tablecloth: Place a tablecloth on the floor underneath your playdough table, as well as on top of the table. When playtime is over, simply shake the mats outside, fold, and store for next time. 
  2. Make your own playdough: With homemade playdough, you have more control over the consistency so that you can avoid the crumble a little bit better. Try one of the many recipes online to not only beef up the learning but also pare down the mess. 
  3. Fewer clothes: Playdough can get stuck on clothes, and it’s a pain to get out. Consider having your kids wear oversized t-shirts, smocks, or just their underwear to minimize any laundry issues. 

The Bottom Line

Engaging activities for kids are numerous, but playdough is a winner thanks to the wide range of benefits and its incredible popularity with children of all ages. 

At the end of the day, kids love to play with playdough, and they want to do it. And that’s really the best reason to let them play.

Emily is a former language arts teacher, turned professional stylist and freelance writer. She and her husband are high school sweethearts, raising their three boys in the same neighborhood where they grew up. In her free time, Emily enjoys running, baking, and singing along to Broadway soundtracks.