Anything Goes with Play-Doh®

Anything Goes with Play-Doh

We all know what Play-Doh® is…that yellow container filled with that non-sticky, clay-like dough, ready to be molded into whatever our little hearts desired. What we didn’t recognize was all the benefits we gained when playing with it. 

Aside from letting us create anything our imagination wanted, we were indirectly developing the strength and coordination in our arms, hands, and fingers necessary to complete fine motor tasks. Hmmm…wonder if that was Play-Doh®’s intention?

(Side note: It wasn’t. It was originally sold as a wallpaper cleaner in the 1930s.)

Here are some simple Play-Doh® activities to help strengthen fine motor skills:

  • Investigate and destroy  Smash it. Flatten it. Pull it apart. Use tools like a rolling pin or cookie cutters. Just playing in this manner allows your child to develop shoulder strength and stability, as well as feeding the sensory system responsible for body and spatial awareness (proprioception). Also, all that heavy work can help get excess energy out, improving attention to tasks.
  • Build and create  Make balls and snakes by rolling it on the table or between hands. Build a snowman or caterpillar. Build a mountain or make pizza…the possibilities are endless. They can use one or both hands to mold and shape, bringing awareness to the hands in a tactile sense.
  • Practice tool usage Is your child ready to learn how to cut soft foods or paper? Practice with Play-Doh®. Pull out the child-safe knife and fork and have them pretend to cut their Play-Doh® like food (imagine playing kitchen or restaurant). 

    You can also practice scissor skills with Play-Doh® as it provides more input than paper, strengthening intrinsic muscles in the hand. You can even use other household objects like rulers or floss to practice cutting.
  • Insert small objects  Want to help with their grasping skills? Have your child poke uncooked spaghetti in Play-Doh®. Golf tees or toothpicks? Those work fine too. Not only does this promote appropriate grasp (similar to using a pencil), but it’s helping strengthen the hand and finger muscles needed for this skill. For an additional challenge, have your child hold a few coins or beads in their hand and have them put it in one at a time, like inserting coins into a soda machine. 
  • Hide and Seek  Hide small objects in Play-Doh® (beads, small buttons, coins) and have your child retrieve them. The more dough you have, the better for this activity as this is an all-out fine motor workout. Not only does it strengthen the hand and finger muscles, but it is also coordinates both hands together (bilateral coordination). It is also improving the tactile (touch) system to explore, identify, and differentiate objects from one another.
  • Speaking of writing… Does your child have difficulties drawing shapes or writing letters? Add a sensory component. Have them create shapes and letters with Play-Doh® (example: roll out one short and two long pieces to make the letter A or a triangle). 

    They can even practice drawing or writing on a flattened piece of dough as it provides opportunity to understand line directionality, length of lines, and how to make shapes or letters. 

If you don’t have Play-Doh®, or if it’s sadly dried out since the last time you used it, there are many recipes online to make your own. For more Play-Doh® ideas, recipes, and more, visit our Pinterest Page

Play-Doh Was Originally Wallpaper Cleaner, Daven Hiskey. Today I found Out, 2011.
12 Simple Play-Doh Activities for Preschoolers, Christie Kiley. MamaOT, 2015.
Fine Motor Skills, The OT Toolbox Blog.

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