Play dough is one of those play materials that you can find in almost every early learning environment. It is highly attractive to young children and leads to many hours of creative play. But as Swartz (2005) emphasizes, there is much that children learn as they use play dough. In addition to enhancing social and emotional development and learning opportunities in the arts, Swartz outlines how this seemingly simple material can provide integrated learning experiences in the following cognitive areas:
- Language development. Because of the interactive nature of play dough use, children need to listen, understand the communication of others, speak, and practice their oral communication skills as they mold and manipulate their play dough constructions.
- Science understandings. The tactile experience of manipulating play dough helps children develop a deeper understanding of how matter changes (physics) and encourages them to use scientific thinking as they observe changes, make predictions, and talk through differences in the materials they are using.
- Mathematics concepts. Mixing up a new batch of play dough with adults is one way in which play dough engages children in mathematical learning as they measure and count recipe ingredients. Discussions about shape, relative size (greater than, equal to, or less than), height, length, and weight provide additional opportunities for children to develop mathematical understandings.
- Literacy Learning. When paper and writing utensils are added to the play dough area, children can make signs, labels, and create stories related to their play efforts.
- Physical development. The fine motor skills needed for writing and drawing are refined as children roll, poke, and shape their play dough creations.
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