As an occupational therapist (OT), play dough is one of my all time favorite tools to use during intervention sessions! But you don’t have to be an OT to utilize play dough for all types of skills and learning! Classroom teachers can easily incorporate this great tool into every day routines. It can add a fine motor or sensory [or just FUN!] component to almost any activity! See how SSE OT blogger Taylor likes to utilize it here in her blog! Keep reading below for my five tips:
1. Play Dough Mats
The Tell Me! Comprehension Play Dough Mats: November Edition is a great example of how to incorporate play dough into daily learning activities – especially for our tactile and fidgety learners! You can use any comprehension mats in small groups or 1:1 by asking the students to answer comprehension [or other!] questions. If they get the answer correct, have them cover it up with play dough. These mats are great while reading to check for understanding all while adding in a fine motor component! Pinching off small pieces, rolling them into a ball and then “squishing” them works on a ton of great fine motor skills.
You don’t even have to have worksheets that are specifically made to be “play dough” mats! Be creative by adding it in to any pre-established worksheets/activities. I bet your kiddos will be more actively engaged. Plus, they will be working on fine motor skills in the process!
2. Handwriting Practice
I would encourage every elementary school teacher to include some kind of handwriting practice into their daily routines no matter what. While, yes, technology is becoming more and more prevalent, handwriting is still an important skill. Research shows that the practice really does make perfect, and the ability to self-monitor/edit your own work through cognitive strategies is really important when it comes to handwriting legibility.
But I’m right there with you when it comes to the same old handwriting practice worksheets. They can be boring. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Simple Daily Writing Journal: Year Long Bundle for my early learners! But a multi-sensory approach may be helpful! Can students practice spelling words in play dough? Can they write responses at their desk in the same way rather than writing on a whiteboard or verbally answering? Get creative! You can even use the Simple Writing Bundle for Special Education and pair it with clay or theraputty for an extra fine motor challenge!
3. Scissor Skill Practice
Another unique way to utilize play dough is to work on scissor skills! Sometimes you just need to “mix it up” with a new medium to keep kids engaged! While my students LOVE the Cut and Paste Fine Motor Sheets, it is always exciting to practice their skills with play dough. This requires more hand strength than cutting paper, so students who fatigue quickly may benefit from lift-assisted scissors pictured above [affiliate link]. It may be easier for some students to cut on a line if it is drawn into the play dough because they have more of a “ledge” [that they can tactilely feel] rather than just a visual line. However, holding the dough [that is a bit floppy!] with their “helper hand” may be a bit trickier! See what the challenges and benefits of this activity are for each of your learners!
4. Fine Motor Centers
Make your own fine motor centers with play dough at each one! Consider any of the following activities:
- Slicing with a knife
- Cutting with scissors
- Using a rolling pin
- Using cookie cutters
- Building structures following model
- Spelling or writing words
- Hand strength exercises
- Hiding beads/small items in the dough to find
- Pinching small pieces off and rolling into balls
One of my favorite Simply Special Ed resources are the Fine Motor Centers! Guess what? They utilized play dough too! If you can’t think of enough centers that are all play dough-based, consider using other fine motor manipulatives like the ones in this resource!
5. Spelling Practice
Lastly, so many of my students have time throughout their school days where they practice spelling words. This is probably one of the easiest times to incorporate play dough for some added fine motor practice while also including some sensory [and novelty!] components to the activity! Using a variety of senses also helps to solidify concepts! Have students spell out all of their spelling words using the dough. This is also great for visual motor skills and motor planning. It can be harder than it looks!
Consider starting the school year with one container for each of your students and see how frequently you turn to it as a “go to” material throughout the year! Share ways you’ve utilized play dough in your classroom in the comments below!