I recently had a conversation with a Pre-K Teacher Assistant about play dough. She told me that the children do not make play dough at the school she works at, but that the parents take turns making it at home to bring to school. I was baffled. She responded by saying their time is focused on more Kindergarten readiness activities since she works with 5-year-olds, but it was a good activity for toddlers. Again, I was astonished, and quite frankly annoyed. If anything, it’s a more difficult activity with younger kids.
Since when did making play dough with children become anything less than a hands-on learning experience? I have always engaged my class in our play dough- making.
I taught 5-year-old children in Head Start, and at Eanes ISD, and never once had I thought, “This is a waste of precious learning time.”
So…what do kids actually learn when making play dough (or other manipulative) in a school setting?
*Turn-taking and patience: they all want to contribute at the same time, but have to wait their turn.
*Science: A lot of times we have too much water or too much flour, so we have to add more of one of those ingredients to make it turn out properly.
*Language skills: naming the ingredients and discussing the way it feels. Do we need more of this ingredient?
*Math: The measurements of each ingredient and why it’s important to measure according to the recipe.
* Sensory exploration/Gross and Fine motor skills: kneading the dough to get it the right texture, pouring, stirring, and mixing. And the sensory part is therapuedic. Physical hand and finger work strengthens muscles needed for writing.
*Self-help skills and self-confidence: The appreciation and eagerness to play with the final product is much more enhanced, and dare I say, “priceless” to their play dough experience.
What do I want you to take from my article? Purposeful learning activities. There’s always a reason behind the seemingly simple things that are done in the classroom. Kids value, appreciate, and learn best by being engaged in a meaningful experience. They gain self-confidence, feel productive in their efforts, and appreciate the material that they manipulate because they helped create it. Furthermore, it’s a choice. No one is forced to help make play dough. However, most kids WANT TO! It’s fun and exciting for most children. And that’s the end-goal (in my mind)- to create an experience that encourages participation, excitement, and engagement, not to mention skill-building on every level.