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When Fun and Learning Collide: Preschool Playdough Activities for Growing Minds

Updated: Mar 15

preschool playdough ideas

Playdough has been a fan favorite among toddlers and preschoolers for years.  It is one toy that keeps on giving…my children have played with playdough for years!  When my children were little, we would roll and practice cutting the playdough.  We would play restaurant with our delicious creations and practice our shapes and colors.  Even at the ages of 8 and 10, my children still enjoy a good playdough session.  My son grabbed toothpicks and created three-dimensional shapes just yesterday!  And let’s be honest, I would choose playdough over slime ANY DAY! 

Besides begin fun, there are so many hidden benefits to playdough.  It is a versatile tool for learning and development of young children.  Let’s dive into the amazing ways to learn and play with playdough!



Using Preschool Playdough Activities Across the Curriculum

In the realm of childhood play, playdough stands out as a powerhouse of developmental benefits. Beyond its colorful appeal lies numerous cognitive, social, emotional, and fine motor advantages!  Let’s look at ways preschools can use playdough in target different learning goals across the curriculum.    



  • Counting: Grab a set of candles, make a cake, and practice counting by adding candles into the playdough!

Using playdough for counting

  • Shapes: Use playdough to sculpt various geometric shapes, such as circles, squares, triangles, and rectangles. Identify and name each shape as you create them.  Use cookie cutters or toothpicks to aid in learning. 

  • Patterning: Create simple patterns with different colors of playdough, such as red-blue-red-blue, and continue the pattern. Create your own patterns for others to complete.

  • Measurement: Use playdough as a non-standard unit of measurement. For example, use playdough snakes to measure the length of objects or compare the heights of different sculptures you create. 

  • Addition and Subtraction: Create simple math problems using playdough objects. For example, add two playdough balls together or subtract one from a group to find out how many are left.

  • Sorting and Classifying:  Use cookie cutters to create several shapes of different colors and sizes.  Sort the objects by different attributes.   

  • Fraction Concepts:  Divide a piece of Play-Doh into halves, thirds, or quarters to introduce basic fraction concepts.  Explore how fractions represent parts of a whole.



  • Letter Formation: Use playdough to practice forming letters of the alphabet. Roll snakes of playdough and shape them into letters, saying the letter name and sound as you go. 

  • CVC Words: Print pictures of objects that are CVC words, such as “cat”.  Use playdough to roll snakes and create each word. Read the word aloud and use it in a sentence.

  • Story Retelling: After reading a story, recreate scenes from the story using playdough. Retell the story your own words.

  • Beginning Sounds: Provide objects or pictures of objects that begin with different sounds. Use the playdough to create the letter that matches the beginning sound and practice saying the sound aloud.

  • Create an Animal: Use googly eyes to create different animal characters and let your imagination soar through stories!

Literacy - Phonological Awareness:

  • Rhyming Words:  Make pairs of rhyming words with playdough, such as "cat" and "hat," "dog" and "log”.  Identify and match rhyming pairs while playing.

  • Segmenting and Blending: Roll out long snakes of playdough and then break them into smaller pieces to represent individual sounds in words. Say a word and touch each playdough part for each sound. Blend the sounds back together to form the whole word.

  • Syllable Awareness:  Roll out balls of playdough and then squash them while saying a word.  Each squash represents a syllable in the word.

  • Phoneme Substitution:  Begin by created three playdough ball of the same color. Say a simple word aloud and tap one ball for each sound. Now, change out one sound for a new sound by switching the ball that represents that sound for a different colored ball to make a new word. For example, change "cat" to "bat" or "mat" to "mad."

Use playdough for phonological awareness.

  • Sentence Segmentation:  Say a simple sentence aloud.  Roll out one playdough ball for each word in the sentence.  Smash the balls as you slowly say each word in the sentence. 


  • Color Mixing: Gather primary colors of playdough (red, blue, yellow) and mix them together to create secondary colors (orange, green, purple). Discuss the results of their mixing experiments.

  • Sink or Float: Discuss the concept of sink and float.  Shape playdough into different objects and predict whether they will sink or float in water. Test the predictions and discuss the results.  Create boats with playdough and watch them go for another fun idea!

  • Building Structures: Encourage children to use playdough to construct buildings, bridges, and other structures. This helps them understand basic engineering principles and concepts like stability and balance.

  • Animal Habitats: Create different animal habitats using playdough, such as a forest, ocean, or desert. Discuss the characteristics of each habitat and the animals that live there and use figurines to play in the habitats. 

Playdough fossil project for preschool activity

  • Fossil Making: Press small toy animals or plants into playdough to create "fossils." Discuss how fossils are formed and what they can tell us about the past, introducing concepts like paleontology and geology.

Fine Motor:

  • Rolling and Shaping: Roll playdough into balls, snakes, or coils using hands. This helps develop hand-eye coordination and strengthens finger muscles.

  • Cutting with Scissors: Use child-safe scissors to cut playdough into different shapes or patterns. This activity enhances hand strength and coordination while introducing basic scissor skills.

  • Stamping and Imprinting: Use various objects like cookie cutters, plastic utensils, or textured stamps to press into the playdough.

  • Poking and Patterning: Poke holes or create patterns in the playdough using tools like toothpicks, straws, or plastic forks. This activity enhances precision and control over fine movements.

  • Building with Accessories: Provide small beads, buttons, or sequins to embed into the playdough creations. This activity requires careful manipulation and strengthens finger muscles.

  • Threading and Stringing: Offer pipe cleaners or plastic lacing strings to thread through rolled playdough pieces or beads. This promotes hand-eye coordination and finger dexterity.

  • Squeezing and Squeezing: Provide squeeze toys or garlic presses to squeeze playdough through, creating textured strands or shapes. This activity strengthens hand muscles and coordination.

Social/Emotional Benefits of Playdough: 

Sharing playdough at preschool

  • Sensory Regulation:  The tactile experience of squishing, rolling, and shaping playdough can have a calming effect on preschoolers, helping them regulate their sensory input and reduce feelings of stress or anxiety.

  • Mindfulness Practice:  Engaging in playdough play can promote mindfulness as children focus their attention on the sensory experience of manipulating the dough, which can help them become more present in the moment and alleviate feelings of overwhelm.

  • Stress Relief: Kneading and molding playdough can serve as a form of stress relief for preschoolers, providing a constructive outlet for releasing pent-up energy or frustration and promoting a sense of relaxation and well-being.

  • Self-Soothing: Engaging in playdough play allows children to engage in self-soothing activities as they focus on the repetitive motions of shaping and molding the dough, which can have a calming effect on their nervous system and promote a sense of comfort and security.

  • Cooperation: Working together to create shapes, structures, or scenes promotes cooperation, teamwork, and sharing among preschoolers.

  • Problem-Solving: Collaborating to solve challenges or troubleshoot issues with their playdough creations enhances problem-solving skills and encourages critical thinking.

  • Empathy: Encouraging preschoolers to express empathy towards others' creations or ideas promotes emotional intelligence and empathy development.

There is no doubt that playdough is much more than just a fun modeling compound—it's a versatile tool for learning and development that engages sensory learning and spans across multiple areas of the curriculum. By incorporating playdough into educational activities, we can nurture children's cognitive, physical, and socio-emotional growth while fostering a love for learning that lasts a lifetime. So, grab a handful of playdough, unleash your imagination, and let the learning begin!


Check out this homemade playdough recipe!

Homemade Playdough Recipe


Favorite Playdough Accessories to Enhance Learning!

playdough tools
Favorite Playdough Learning Accessories


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