How many Mommies out there have cringed when your child unwrapped that assortment of colorful, crumbly, messy playdough? You automatically cut your eyes to the “gifter,” grin with cleaned teeth and thank them as best as you can (even though you want to throw it back in their face). I’ll be honest, when my children have received playdoh in the past, I may or may not have hidden it in the closet, regifted to another unsuspecting parent, or yes, even returned it to the store. Things have changed, however. I have been a Special Education Teacher for five years now, and I have learned A LOT! One thing, in particular, is to look outside the box (and the mess). Some of the simplest and annoying toys can play a huge part in your child’s advancement. Did you know that playdoh has many benefits, especially for children with sensory issues? Yes friends, that hardened gunk in the carpet can assist and improve your littles ones development and growth.
You may be asking, “How in the world can this crap help my kid?” Well, the funny thing about it is that not only can playdoh help your child, but it can also help you, as well! Any type of putty, in fact, has shown to have many health and wellness advantages. Here are some greats uses and reason to incorporate playdoh, gak, slime, flubber, and silly putty into your play routine.
1. FINE MOTOR DEVELOPMENT/Maintenance
One of the most significant benefits of playdoh is the development and maintenance of fine motor abilities. Each time you squish, stretch, mold, cut, and tear the dough you are strengthening the muscles in the hands as well as developing and working on control with your fingers. I have the privilege at school each week to collaborate (and learn from) Cindy Flickinger, an Occupational Therapist for our district who focuses heavily on sensory therapy. One of the most popular (and beneficial) activities she uses with the children involves therapy putty. “We put hard items like stones or glass pebbles in the putty or dough mostly to increase hand strength. This increases not only grip strength but pinch strength which aids in handwriting. Many children with poor handwriting have weak hands and fingers. Another plus in placing a certain number of items helps with counting, adding and subtraction and most of all staying on a task to completion,” Cindy explained. Using playdoh is a great way to help children with a number of fine motor difficulties.
2. Calming/Sensory Play
As a Moderate and Severe Disability teacher, I have learned to look at the world in an entirely different way. When I see someone upset, anxious, or overwhelmed I scan the environment for sensory triggers. Many individuals with disabilities, such as Autism, have something called Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Priscilla Scherer from ADDitude Magazine explained, “Sensory Processing Disorder is a unique and challenging neurological condition associated with inefficient processing of sensory information. Common SPD triggers include hair brushing, tight clothes, loud noises (fireworks, thunder), bright lights (camera flashes, bright sun, strobe lights), odors (perfume, scented detergent), [and/or] coarse fabric on skin.” These triggers can cause anxiety, meltdowns, panic, crying, frustration, along with many other unwanted behaviors/emotions. The crazy thing is that child and adults with AND without disabilities suffer from triggers. This is where playdoh can factor into the picture.
I suffer from anxiety when there are crowds, loud noises, and bright lights (to name a few). In the past, I have played with my hair, picked out my eyelashes, chewed my fingernails, etc. A great calming exercise for me is using playdoh. The same goes for children. By fidgeting with playdoh, you can ease tension, release extra energy, and improve focus and concentration. Having a variety of textures and colors available in a bag/purse or at home or school is an instant therapy session.
When using playdoh, the possibilities are endless. Children can create any creature, structure, letter, or number that they want with only a little bit of imagination. Including several different items (buttons, stones, pipe-cleaners) can help to inspire and ignite their thoughts and ideas. The child is given a blank canvas with the ability to make their own unique and amazing creation.
When you tell a child to “build a house” with playdoh the child is faced with obstacles. What color is the house? How will I mold the structure so that it will stand? Will there be windows? How am I going to make the roof? These questions require the individual to solve problems, make decisions, and leads to higher order thinking skills. Playdoh may seem all fun and games, but while they play their brains are working on overdrive.
5. Social Skills/Collaboration
Playing with playdoh can be an individual activity, however, in most cases, children are playing with others. The act of physically playing helps to calm the child and diverts their attention to the actual act of molding and manipulating the dough. Since their attention is focused on play, they are able to speak, converse, and interact with their peers more appropriately and with more success. Children also work together to build and create creations, sharing tools and other items available to them. It’s a great calm and relaxing activity for children of all ages.