When I consider the history of my appreciation for playdough, it’s a surprising reality that I can’t remember the first time I used the fun, malleable substance. I can, however, remember the way it made me feel as a child. With playdough in-hand, I was a creative master, free to pull or squeeze together anything my brain could imagine. Modeling dough had the flexibility to make a small, squishy replica of nearly anything as long as it had a wide enough base to support it. When I watch my daughters make their own creations with play dough, the look in their eyes seems to embody that same feeling.
So why is play dough so magical for little kids and adults alike? Here are just a few reasons. This article contains affiliate links.
Relaxation and Fine Motor Skill Development
All the rolling, folding and mashing that comes after you tear off a clump of play dough is a sensory phenomenon. For adults like me, squishing it into shapes is relaxing. Think “stress ball”. But for the little hands it’s geared toward it’s so much more. According to an article by Michigan State University, play dough helps toddlers and preschoolers to strengthen muscles in their fingers and hands. The same muscles that they’ll later use for holding a pencil and cutting with scissors. That’s not all. When children shape play dough into new things, they are also learning hand-eye coordination.
Color Matching, Color Therapy and Color Identification
I’m always impressed with the variety of colors I can find in the store-bought brands of modeling dough. While the brand PlayDoh boasts mostly bright, vibrant colors of the rainbow that I often use for like-colored replicas like green string beans, pink macarons and yellow cheeses, Sergeant Art offers a family of multi-cultural colors that I use for fake foods like breads, doughnuts and pancakes.
But the color of play dough means much more than just a good match in the hands of a developing child. When a child selects the color(s) she will use to construct her masterpiece she is learning to identify and match the colors she sees with similar colors in her environment. With gentle prompting (saying the name of a particular color as it’s played with) from a caregiver, this process reinforces her knowledge of colors.
Furthermore, scientists have proven that colors evoke unique emotions in the human mind. Therefore, in an hour of play, a child can feel happiness while playing with yellow, a sense of relaxation from blue or a burst of energy from orange.
Depending on how many projects I’m working on and how complex they are, play dough can occupy me for hours. It seems to have the same effect on the young molders it was made for. I’m reminded of that reality anytime I witness my daughters engage in the intricate art of dough molding when the opportunity arises.
Also, by doing so and without really being aware of it, when children play with modeling dough, they tend to partake in the five components of steam. An activity as fun as mixing two different colors to create a new color equates to a snippet of color science. Using tools to cut, flatten and roll dough engages them in basic technology. Little creators summon their engineering and measuring skills when they solve simple technical problems like creating shapes at the bottom that support the weight at the top of a creation or figuring out just the right size and shape to mold when replicating things like worms (cylinders), balls (spheres), pancakes (discs) and more.
And finally, when a child is creating with playdough, they become an artist. Art is at the core of every maker’s journey through any new project. There’s the concept and development that often takes place in the brain before a child even touches the bright piece of dough they see. The tweaking and refinement process that every artist (including the young molder) tends to experience when he is attempting to get a project just as he imagined it and the final presentation that happens when he presents it with pride in the palm of an open hand accompanied by the words “look what I did”.
Creating with modeling dough is a fun and fulfilling way to relax, experience vivid color and learn something new all in one sitting. Although kids may benefit the most from playing with I, it embodies the spirit of fun for all ages. So next time your child grabs the playdough to flatten and roll her latest masterpiece, consider constructing your own.