Play and Development
Debbie Mobbs
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Playdough...the mess is worth it!Playdough is a hidden gem when it comes to fine motor control and development. Fine Motor Co-ordination is a skill that determines how we hold objects and let them go (in a controlled way) with our hands and fingers. Good fine motor control is dependent on a stable core (strong tummy and back muscles) as well as neck and shoulder strength. Our neck and shoulder muscles need to be strong and stable so that we can move our hands and fingers freely to perform complex everyday tasks such as dressing, eating and writing.

As part of Fine Motor Co-ordination development we learn how to manipulate objects in our hands and use our fingers in different ways to perform a wide variety of different grasps.

The activity of playing with playdough has numerous benefits - of which, many we are probably not consciously aware.  Here are a few from an occupational therapy perspective:

  • It encourages the development of finger strength. This can be achieved by asking your child to squeeze the playdough between their fingers, or asking them to find a "hidden treasure" such as a button inside the playdough.
  • It can also develop bilateral skills (using two hands together) if your child is encouraged to roll it into a ball or long "snake" using two hands. Rolling out the playdough with a rolling pin is also useful in developing bilateral skills.
  • It can help develop pincer and tripod finger grasps (important for pencil control). Simply ask your child to pinch the "snake" rolled out above to give it scales. See the third image from the left below.
  • It can assist in teaching colours and shapes if you use shape cutters or make them yourself.
  • Finally, it can help develop utensil skills in a non-threatening way by using blunt / children's cutlery to cut "sausages" that have been made.
Buttons in PlaydoughA Child Rolling PlaydoughKids Pinching PlaydoughPlaydough Colours and ShapesUtensil Use and Playdough

Playdough also has many sensory benefits. The tactile feeling of the dough is good for developing an understanding of soft vs hard textures. To enhance the sensory experience one can add a few drops of aromatherapy oils to create a wonderful smelling experience too, e.g. peppermint, lemongrass, lavender or vanilla essence.

Shape, Model and Mould Playdough SetWe have a wonderful playdough set from the Melissa and Doug range which includes five shaped stamping cubes, three patterned rolling pins, four tubs of different coloured playdough and one patterned wheel press. The educational and learning opportunities of this set are endless - let your child's imagination take over and enjoy the wonder that can be created. It's play time!

Here are some of our other products that promote fine motor skills:

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