February 21, 2014 posted by littlewhitecottage

Great for developing motor skills or just bloomin’ good fun? (A recipe for playdough)

playdough 1

So much of childhood fun is being stolen, repackaged and sold back to us as ‘educationally valuable’ in some way. Lots of packaging details how the enclosed item can ‘help develop fine motor skills’, ‘encourage correct pencil grip’ and ‘great for hand eye coordination!’ and many other developmental claims. Playing with my granny’s button box, which both my brother’s and I did for hours, comes under the lovely label of ‘heuristic play’. Admittedly not a new concept in itself but a new fad for mothers to get into, worry about doing it ‘right’ and feel smug if they apparently are. I crochet and the inside cardboard tubes of the woven yarn have given endless entertainment for my boys, rolling, building, threading onto things even sometimes throwing. We have always had some sort of junk box where we put the old packaging in and they boys make of it what they will, building, making garages for their cars or sometimes just opening and shutting the lids of things. Collections of milk bottle tops have been used to make patterns with (and buttons on spaceships), the triangular corners made from plastic that edged our new worktops were put to good use as Oliver found the tessellation fascinating and built ‘cities’ from them.

We made Play dough today (far cheaper than buying it) and coloured it black with orange extract so it, and the kitchen, smelt lovely. All the boys played with it with no interference from us exactly how they wanted to and at their own level. (Some would say a great example of differentiation by outcome!) Tobias, 18 months, had great fun stabbing the dough with a fork and rolling it flat with a rolling pin. Henry, 3, was busy stuffing it in an icing tube and squashing it out the other end (looks like poo mummy!) and Oliver, 6 was cutting shapes and making a person out of them. We made the play dough together, measuring the ingredients using cups and they played happily for a while. Next week they want to make red dough and have golden glitter in it, so off to a craft shop I’ll go…

So. Do I take a step back and feel great that I provided my children with lots of opportunity today to develop their fine motor skills, strengthen their muscles in their hands preparing them for holding a pencil? Am I happy that Tobias was practising using his fork in a non-food environment so he’ll be better with during his next meal? Was I pleased that Oliver spent some valuable time investigating how a stretchy material behaves and that he practised weighing, reading and measuring?

No. I was just happy there was much giggling, chatting and having fun. I think we can sometimes forget that our children don’t always have to gain something educationally from activities they do. Sometimes it’s great to do something for the sheer pleasure and enjoyment. It’s a bit like the mouse wandering through the woods one sunny day in the story of the Gruffalo. He delighted in the scenery, the weather and the things he discovered. Children need these wanderings too. They need to be free to explore and try new things without fear of needing a learning outcome, to sometimes do something with no point at all as it’s during these times that we can actually learn the most, create wonderful lasting memories and, most importantly, have some bloomin’ good fun…

playdough 2

Recipe for Play dough


1 cup of plain flour

1 cup of water

1 tablespoon cooking oil

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

half a cup of salt

food colouring (optional)

Mix it altogether in a saucepan under a low heat. Don’t worry about the state of the saucepan it does come off! Try adding glitter or rice to create texture. Store it in an airtight container –I use a liquitab box. This recipe made enough for the 3 boys to play quite happily with.



1 Comment

  • I run a Mother and Toddler Group at our local church and to see children ‘playing’ is the greatest joy out… children learn in a variety of ways. Giving them different opportunities to explore and get messy is just great. Who needs expensive toys when you have cardboard boxes!

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