25+ Ways to Play with Play Dough

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If you're on the hunt for fresh ideas to keep those little hands busy and those big imaginations running wild, you've hit the jackpot, because I've got lots of unique ways to play with play dough to share with you.

Play dough is one of our favorite things to create and play with in our house. One year we made play dough every week just to see what different types we could come up with.

After awhile though, we started getting bored of the different play doughs we were creating, because, I mean how many plates of spaghetti can one make, right? Even if it smells like gingerbread, it's still just worms and dough balls.

So I sat down one morning and brainstormed all the ways we could play with play dough that might keep them interested, even the older kids, and here are a few I came up with.

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Create Your Own Miniature Play Dough World

Why stick to the mundane, when you can create entire worlds? Encourage kids to shape playdough into trees, animals, houses and more to create their own miniature scene.

You can encourage your little one's imagination by adding fun toys or crafts into their world like twigs, pebbles, or even flowers into their creations.

  • Dinosaur Land create dinosaurs, volcanoes, ferns, and more.
  • Fairy Tale Land read a fairy tale, then bring those characters to life.
  • Under the Sea Adventure learn about ocean creatures from books and build their world.
  • Outer Space Exploration form planets, stars, galaxies, or even UFOs for cosmic adventures.
  • Garden Party grow a play dough garden with flowers, veggies, and bugs.
  • Transportation Hub build cars, trucks, planes and trains!
  • Superhero City for us this always ends up being the PJ Masks city, add buildings and more, then use red, green, and blue to make your favorite superheroes!

Art and Design

Color Mixing Laboratory

Teach color theory by blending different colors of play dough together to create new ones.

This is a fantastic way to introduce young learners to colors through hands-on and sensory-rich experience. By blending different colors of play dough, children can explore primary, secondary, and even tertiary colors, understanding how new colors are made.

Grab your play dough in at least the primary colors (red, blue, and yellow) but you can also add in black and white.

Begin by introducing the primary colors. I like to give each child a ball of red, blue, and yellow. We talk about what we know about each color. What red things do we know? What about blue? Yellow is the color of the daffodils we see in the fields by our classroom. What about the grass? What color is that?

Then we begin to talk about predictions. Before we blend any colors we talk about what they think will be created. This encourages critical thinking and anticipation.

You can create secondary colors by mixing

  • Green: blue and yellow
  • Orange: red and yellow
  • Purple: red and blue

Guide kids through the process of blending the play dough to see the transformation. Have them compare the results with their predictions.

You can take this as far as you'd like, adding in tertiary colors, shades and tins, and more, depending on how things are going in your classroom. This is one of our favorite unique ways to play with play dough.

Colorful arrangement of play dough with text overlay '25+ ways to play with PLAY DOUGH' offering fun and educational activities on how to play with play dough, as seen on bethannaverill.com.

Educational Games and Learning

Play dough already has a lot of educational benefits:

  • Works on fine motor skills
  • Encourages creativity through play
  • Promotes cognitive development

I love giving kids play dough mats to create with. Rolling play dough into letters, numbers, and shapes isn't just fun, it's educational, and it's a great way to introduce them to new themes or ideas.

When we started our construction theme, we had construction play dough mats, and used yellow play dough to create them.

Incorporate themes like numbers, letters, or science concepts into play, turning fun activities into valuable learning opportunities.

Dramatic Play Using Play Dough

There are a billion different ways to add play dough to your dramatic play. One of my favorite dramatic play stations is a Flower Shop Dramatic Play. You can use play dough to create the flowers, or seeds, mix some coffee grounds into the play dough to make it more like dirt, and “plant” your artificial flowers.

Here are a few other ideas for pretend play with play dough:

  • Play Dough Pizzeria– Who doesn't love pizza? Set up a play dough pizzeria where they can create their own pizzas with silly toppings.
  • Ice Cream Shop– Scoop up play dough ice cream flavors and toppings. These ice cream bowls are perfect for this!
  • Play Dough Bakery– Bake cakes, cookies, and more! Use a cookie sheet to make it more interactive.
  • Jewelry Maker– Roll dough into “beads” and add them onto plastic string (or uncooked spaghetti noodles) to create different patterns.
  • Italian Restaurant– Like the pizzeria, but with different noodles instead. I like adding an extruder.
  • Cupcake Shop– Add in a cupcake tin, and watch the creativity soar!
  • Botanical Garden– Invite students to create their own gardens with flowers, vegetables, and even little bugs.

Add Tools to Make Play Dough More Interesting

I've shared a few of my favorite tools in with previous examples, but here is a list of some of my very favorite tools for play dough:

  • Textured Rolling Pins– You can use rolling pins to give your play dough a more dramatic look. Add some texture here, and you'll make everything look better. Plates, cookies, cupcakes. See what amazing things you can add with these!
  • Beads– Use beads or buttons to add decorations to your bakery creations.
  • Googly Eyes– I don't know what it is. But adding googly eyes to your play dough makes them unbelievably more hilarious and fun.
Add to a microwave safe container
  • Mosaic Tiles– Press these tiles into play dough to create a whole new art piece. It's great for fine motor development, color pattern recognition, and introducing a new way to create art.
  • Uncooked pasta– Explore textures with rice, pasta, and more.

Uncooked pasta is actually my favorite way to incorporate different textures and give a whole new sensory experience without being too new and different.

Sensory Exploration

Create a whole sensory tray as an invitation to play, like this patriotic invitation to play we did last independence day.

A dark blue divided tray in the shape of a star with white play dough and an assortment of things to play with that dough such as mini popsicle sticks, plastic chains, and reflective gems.

Adding small, intriguing items into a tray for little ones to find really makes a whole new experience.

To ensure this is a hit, I like to take the play dough out right before they get there, and set up the scene like someone has already started playing. Add some of the beads in a pattern on the play dough.

For some reason, kids love when the ideas of how to play are already started. It jump starts their creativity and gets them super excited to play, themselves!

Science and Discovery with Play Dough

Adding an element of STEM to your play dough is a lot easier than you might think. Play dough is already inherently related to science. But how can we make that connection in preschool?

Make it relatable to the unit you're working on. My favorite unit is a dinosaur unit, there are so many ways to add science into a dino unit. Here are a few:

  • Play Dough Volcanoes– Build and erupt with a chemical reaction. Add baking soda into your dough volcano, then add vinegar (with food coloring and a touch of dish soap) and watch the reaction!
  • Dinosaur Fossils– Create fossils by pressing small dinosaur toys into flattened play dough.

Read more about dinosaur science experiments you can do at home, or in your preschool classroom.

  • Design habitats– What would be the perfect home for a caterpillar?
  • Solar System– Build our solar system.
  • Plant Life Cycle– Use play dough to model each stage of a plant's life cycle: seed, sprout, young plant, and flowering plant.

Try Play Dough Mats

If you're looking for a simple and easy way to add play dough into your day, but you don't want to create anything big and elaborate, you're going to love these play dough mats.

play dough task cards, including cement truck, crane, dump truck and front loader

With play dough mats you just need the printable, and a laminator. Then you just add in the play dough and let them create with them! It's easy.

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Setting Up a Play Dough Station

Imagine having a little corner in your home that constantly buzzes with creativity, where the magical scent of play dough invites preschoolers to dive into an oodles of activities ranging from sensory play to educational activities.

Setting up a play dough station can turn this dream into reality! All you need is a bit of planning and the right supplies.

First, choose a spot that's easily accessible, yet out of the way of daily hustle and bustle.

A small table in the corner of the living room or a dedicated space in your child’s playroom works wonders. Essential supplies include various colors of play dough, cutting tools, rolling pins, and molds to kickstart those nature-inspired crafts and motor skills development sessions.

For organization, stackable containers and a set of drawers can keep your play dough and tools tidy and easy to find AND put away.

Label them by color or tools type to add a layer of easy identification for your little ones. Integrating recycled crafts materials, such as bottle caps and fabric scraps, can also spark eco-friendly toy curiosity.

A well-organized play dough station not only encourages creativity and exploration but also teaches preschoolers about responsibility and cleaning up after themselves.

Health and Safety Tips

Have a few favorite non-toxic, homemade play dough recipes that are not only safe but also give you a chance to add a personal touch to their playtime.

After playtime, proper storage solutions are a must. I can't stress enough how vital it is to store the play dough in air-tight containers to keep it from drying out and to prevent the growth of mold. The longevity of their play dough depends on this simple, yet crucial step.

Don't forget the importance of adult supervision and regular cleaning. Supervising ensures that the play dough play remains a safe and enjoyable learning experience, preventing accidental eating and promoting hygienic play.

Regularly cleaning the space where your children unleash their creativity with play dough, alongside washing the tools and containers used, will safeguard against germs and bacteria, ensuring a healthy play environment.

I hope this helps, and you're ready to create an awesome experience in your classroom or home. Who knew that a simple ball of play dough could be used in so many different ways!

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