Low Fell Messy Play

How does playdough support early writing?


We use play dough in all our classes. It’s such a popular activity for toddlers and preschoolers.

So what does it have to do with early writing?

Play dough is full of benefits. As children poke, roll, push and squeeze the play dough they strengthen the muscles in their fingers and hands. Pushing, rolling and pulling it apart improves gross motor skills and fine motor skills are developed when they cut, prod and shape it.

Hand strength is important to help children to hold a pencil correctly and to apply the right amount of pressure when writing and drawing. In reception, children are expected to learn phonics and to form letters very quickly so the more hand strength and fine motor skills they have gained before school, the easier they will find this learning.

Playdough also helps children to practise their hand/eye coordination, helping them to form letters easily.

Another benefit to play dough is the language that can come from playing with it. All of the action words like ‘roll, push, pull, pat, squash, squeeze’ are used. Lots of describing words too like ‘ smooth, flat, soft’. And often we are getting involved in imaginative play too – pretending to make pizza or cookies or worms! In this way the play dough helps to develop symbolic thinking – the ability to pretend that one thing is another thing.

Activity ideas:

  • Add dry pasta to play dough. Pushing the pasta into the playdough and pulling it out again is great for fine motor skills. Children often think of their own ideas. For example, penne pasta can become the spines of a dinosaur or the arms of a play dough person.
  • Hide a set number of objects in the play dough and then ask the child to find them all. For an older child this might be say 10 beads and they search the play dough for them. This helps them to practise counting a set of objects
  • Cutting the play dough with scissors – this is really great for practicing using scissors as it cuts easily and is easier to grip than paper. This means they are focusing only on the scissor action. It’s also fun and kids want to do it for ages!

Try these out and do share any other play dough ideas you might have.

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