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Playdough, that squishy childhood staple, gets kids’ hands pounding, poking, rolling, and shaping while their brains find the play a valuable learning opportunity which builds literacy skills. Whether store-bought or homemade, playdough is a great way to engage children in hands-on learning.
Try one of these engaging playdough activities and your child will be working on skills such as listening, vocabulary development, alphabet development, writing one’s name, storytelling, letter-sound matches (phonemic awareness) and memory.
Activity: Make Your Own Playdough
Literacy Skills: listening, vocabulary
Involve your child in the process of making playdough — measuring, adding color, and stirring.
Cooked Playdough Recipe
1 cup water
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup salt
1 tbsp cream of tartar
food coloring or cake decorating paste (great color)
1 cup flour
Mix all ingredients in a saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat and stir until ingredients form a ball. Remove from heat, let cool and knead, adding flour if necessary. Store in a plastic bag.
No-Cook Playdough Recipe
3 cups boiling water
3 cups flour
1 1/2 cups salt
1 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tsp cream of tartar
Mix all ingredients except for the flour in a large bowl. Once well mixed, add the flour. Stir until blended and knead on floured board. Add more flour if needed. Store in a plastic bag and refrigerate.
Activity: Alphabet Cookie Cutters
Literacy Skills: alphabet development, letter-sound matches, writing own name
Use alphabet cookie cutters to make letters, practice sight words, or learn letter sounds. Use your playdough letters to make a train or a tower.
Activity: Alphabet Flags
Literacy Skills: alphabet development, letter-sound matches, writing name
Author / illustrator Jan Brett has printable alphabet flags on her website. Print, cut, and attach to toothpicks. Use the letter flags to build an alphabet castle or a building with your name.
Activity: Colors of the Rainbow
Literacy Skill: vocabulary development
Using playdough of different colors, sort the playdough and talk about the color names. Sort colors, stack colors, and make color patterns.
Activity: Nature Play
Literacy Skill: vocabulary
Gather leaves, sticks, and other safe natural elements from outside to use in your playdough. Press to make prints or use as decorations.
Activity: Write Your Name
Literacy Skill: writing own name
Roll your playdough into long snakey strips. Use a large laminated place mat with the child’s name on it. Copy the letters on the placemat with your playdough snakes.
Activity: Pretend Play Birthday Party
Literacy Skill: vocabulary
Pretend it’s a birthday. Make a cupcake or a cake and top with the correct number of unlit candles or playdough candles. Sing “Happy Birthday” and blow out the candles.
Activity: Story Play
Literacy Skills: storytelling, vocabulary, memory
Read a picture book story together. Then, make the characters out of playdough. Retell the story using your playdough characters.
Activity: Pretend Play Bakery
Literacy Skill: Vocabulary
Get out your muffin papers and let your child make playdough cupcakes and muffins to “sell” at his or her bakery.
Add-Ins for More Playdough Fun:
toothpicks, straws, sticks, uncooked spaghetti, plastic toys, scissors, spatula, forks, plates, muffin tin, muffin papers, candles
Young children learn best by active, hands-on playtime. Sensory playdough activities allow children to develop important pre-literacy skills through play. Squish and learn!