Playdough – mention the word and most parents and caregivers acknowledge the word with a slight cringe or eye-roll.  We all know what “playdough” means – matted red goo in the carpet, purple stuck in the crevaces of the soles of shoes, an unexpected snack as kids sneak a bit into their mouths, and dried little pills of it everywhere for days to come.  However, playdough is an important tool in child development.  So, before you hide or throw out that malleable substance, take a look at what a wonderful product it really is.

Playdough is an excellent tool with young children for the development of fine motor skills which is crucial for activities such as writing and cutting.  Just the basic kneading of the dough strengthens finger and hand muscles, which is important when building tone for those fine motor skills later on.  A step beyond this is clay, which is a less malleable substance and really gives those muscles a workout!

Children also develop a keener coordination between their eyes and hands while using playdough.  Estimation skills are used when determining how much playdough is needed for a specific task; using cookie cutters and rolling pins aids in planning and creating.  Rolling a “snake” (my two year old’s favorite task) helps kids understand cause and effect and motion as well.

Let’s not forget the creative part of open-ended playdough play!  The only thing kids CAN’T create with playdough are those things they haven’t thought of yet.  How about a purple dinosaur?  Or a green kitty?  Maybe a blue and orange sea monster or a space ship with six engines?  Or, perhaps your child wants to make a whole city?  A race car that can fly and float?  Why not? 

And, if you are really into playdough, making your own is terrific for basic math, language and science skills.  It is quite simple to make.  Here’s a terrific and easy recipe to get you started.  There are plenty of them out there.  Find one that works for you and use it often.  And remember all the good you are doing for your child.  It will make the time you spend cleaning playdough off of shoes more worthwhile!

HOMEMADE PLAYDOUGH:

In a saucepan, combine:
4 cups water
4 cups flour
1 cup salt
1/2 T cream of tartar (can also subsitute with 1/4 T baking powder and 1/4 T baking soda)
4 tablespoons oil

Mix until no longer sticky over low/medium heat.  Turn out on plate or board to cool and store in ziplock bag.  Food coloring may be added for variation, and Kool Aid powder also works well for coloring (and smells great, too!).