I’m often asked by parents how they can help with their child’s learning at home. The good news is that for young children, learning at home is fun and easy to fit into the day, no matter how busy your schedule is.
As a child, I have vivid memories of making playdough with my Mum and spending hours ‘baking’ and ‘making’ with it. Playdough is a staple in any good Early Years classroom, a timeless enticement for little hands!
The good news is that playdough is easy and cheap to make at home and will provide hours of entertainment and fun for the whole family. I am sharing the recipe that my Mum used and I have used every week for my twenty-five years in teaching. It never fails me and, when stored in an airtight container in the fridge, will last for weeks.
You will need:
- 2 ½ cups of cold water
- 1 ¼ cups of salt
- 1 ½ tablespoons of cream of tartar (you could use lemon juice or white vinegar instead)
- 5 tablespoons of cooking oil
- 2 ½ cups of plain flour
Put all of the ingredients in a non-stick pan on medium heat. Stir continuously until the mixture starts to become dough-like. Don’t overcook it because it will become too crumbly. Take the mixture out and kneed for at least five minutes. This is an important step as it helps to make the dough perfectly elastic in texture. Once the dough is a little cooler, this is also a great step to involve your child. The dough is now ready for you to enhance in any way you can imagine!
Are you looking for enhancement ideas?
You name it, and I’ve probably tried it with my daughters or any one of the many children I have taught over the years. Firm favourites have been adding herbs and spices, food colouring, glitter, cocoa powder, and even those annoying little strijkkralen beads that seem to be everywhere. Literally, anything goes!
One of my favourites is kneading the dough into a ball and making a large indent. Add a little food colouring (the gel ones work best) and carefully seal up the dent. When your child starts to play with the plain, uncoloured dough, the colour will magically appear! It is a great way to get your child to really work those pivotal muscles in their arms and hands.
Another great activity is to divide the plain dough into three parts and add red, blue or yellow food colouring to each piece. Challenge your child to mix colours together to see if they can make all of the colours of the rainbow.
The opportunities for learning through play[dough]
The possibilities for learning are endless with playdough, aside from the obvious that it is a fantastic way to develop the muscles needed for writing. I have always found it very relaxing to sit and play with dough alongside children. These moments naturally lend themselves to fun whilst also providing the perfect space for prolonged conversations. It is amazing how much knowledge and learning can take place by just having the time to chat when everyone’s hands are busy with dough.
With a bit of thought, playdough can also be used to entice your child to develop the more mundane learning that is usually connected to ‘homework’. The possibilities for practical maths learning are plentiful.
For example, get your child to roll twelve small balls of dough and then challenge your child to arrange them in different patterns; “I wonder how many different groups of three you can make with your dough balls?”. “I can see that you have made four rows of three with your 12 dough balls. What will happen if you make rows of four?”. You could also add a couple of dice and invent different addition and subtraction games with your child.
Over the years, playdough has been my ‘go to’ activity for playdates or entertainment when I needed a little time. With a few simple things found in most households, playdough will entertain most children for an hour or so. Rolling pins, silicone cake moulds, pen lids, bottle tops, cutlery, buttons, toy animals or anything else that will make a pattern are great ways to develop imagination and creativity. It is the perfect learning activity to keep your child busy when dinners need to be cooked, work emails have to be sent, or even when you need a quiet moment to drink a cup of coffee in peace!
TIP: buy some large plastic placemats to protect your table. This also creates a simple ‘boundary’ so your child does not take dough all around the house!
Playdough has no age limit
On a wet and windy Dutch summer day, I was recently stuck in a tent with four teenagers and their grumpy little sister. We were all bored with Uno, so I brought out the playdough, and we made our own version of ‘Rapido’. Each team member has to recreate an object out of dough for their teammates to guess within the set time limit. It was a winner, and the teenagers were playing with the dough long after the game had ended, with not a mobile phone in sight!
Playdough really is miraculous and one of the greatest ways to have fun learning at home!
Jen ten Wolde
Jen is the Foundation Stage 2 Year Leader at Junior School Vlaskamp. She has been teaching for 25 years and is passionate about supporting children and their families in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS).