Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Playdough! Creating Sensory Experiences in the Classroom

I love using playdough in the classroom - it's perhaps the most versatile of all the hands-on resources you can have in your bag of teacher tricks! As well as being a familiar and fun element of learning activities it's also a must-have for fine motor development - and with a few tweaks you can create some amazing sensory experiences for your kidlets to further engage and motivate them. Today I've stopped in to share a few of my favourite ideas with you.

Making your own playdough is easy and much, much cheaper than store bought. My go-to recipe has never failed me and best of all - you don't have to cook it!  Here's how it's done:

1. Mix 2 cups plain flour, 1/2 cup salt, 2 tablespoons cream of tartar and 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a large bowl.
2. Add food colouring of your choice to 1.5 cups of boiling water. Add this to the flour mixture and stir well.
3. When the mixture forms a dough, turn it out onto a floured board and knead until smooth.  (Be careful - it might still be hot!) 
4. Store in cling wrap in the fridge when not in use.

Now that you've whipped up a batch of basic dough it's time to get creative with scents and textures!  This list of ideas is by no means complete - as you experiment you'll find that the options for sensory dough are endless.  Try these to start:

*Lavender Dough - add a few drops of essential oil to some purple dough.  Perfect to place as an option in your 'Calm Down Corner' for kidlets who may need time to settle themselves, or to play with first up in the morning during the beginning of the year when children may find it stressful to separate from their parents.  You can also add lavender flowers for some texture if you have some in your garden. (If you don't like lavender just use any essential oil!)

*Sand Dough - sprinkle some clean sand into your dough as you're stirring the ingredients together.  You may find you need a little extra oil with this recipe.  Don't add food colouring to this batch to make it look more like sand.  Lots of fun to use along with a beach theme - provide shells and coral for kidlets to press into the dough.  Use some coconut essence or oil for a real tropical island experience!

*Mud Dough - I use coffee in this recipe!  Stir some into the boiling water for a rich brown colour.  Coffee grounds kneaded through the mixture add a dirt-like texture.  Provide plastic bugs, sticks/leaves or pebbles for children to explore with.  Make a few batches and add them to a tray outside - kidlets will love digging around in it with construction toys!

*Spring Dough - add rosewater (or another floral essential oil) to some pastel coloured dough.  Have kidlets collect leaves and flowers from the garden (or bring them from home) to use when playing with this dough.

*Chocolate Dough - replace about half a cup of the flour with cocoa powder.  You can use more if you like but I find the chocolate smell becomes too strong.  Perfect to use during an Easter or Valentine's Day theme, or with cupcake liners.  Kidlets will love to decorate their creations with cake sprinkles! Be warned - no matter how many times you explain that it's not food, someone will always eat the chocolate dough.  :)

*Candy Cane Dough - this one is my absolute favourite! Make 2 batches of dough and dye them Christmas colours.  Add peppermint essence.  Whenever we use these Christmas themed playdough mats I always bust out the candy cane dough!

*Fairy Dough/Magic Dough - add fine glitter to dough of any colour.  Girls particularly love pink dough! They will spend hours with the fairy dough, especially if they have a selection of beads, crystals and sparkly things to add to their creations.

*Fruit Dough - steep some herbal tea bags in the boiling water before adding it to the mixture.  Dye the dough the best colour to match your scent - yellow for lemon etc.

*Jelly Dough - dissolve a packet of jelly crystals in the boiling water before adding it to the mixture.  This is your scent and colour all in one!  Make multiple batches to use in a pretend play ice-cream store.  (See below!)

A word of warning: If you have any children who find strong scents overwhelming you will need to use scented dough carefully - I find that the essential oils can be particularly strong if you're too heavy handed.

Obviously you could just provide the dough as an option for kidlets to use during free play time, however we all know that there's less and less time for that in our little learners' school days. :(  Luckily it's easy to use play dough into a meaningful learning activity.

Playdough mats are a staple in my maths and literacy small groups, particularly at the beginning of the year.  Perfect to work on letter and number recognition and counting skills.  Click on the images below to see the ones in my store if you don't already have some of your own!

Alphabet Mats
Numbers 1-10 Mats
Grab some alphabet cutters to use playdough in a sight word or phonics task.  

The options for using playdough in a pretend play setting are pretty much endless!  Create a cafe, restaurant, bakery or ice-cream store with a few bits and pieces from the kitchen and a few batches of dough!

I hope I've sparked your imagination and inspired you to use scented or textured playdough in your own classroom!

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