Play With Play-Doh

4 Ways to Enjoy Molding Dough With Toddlers

Caucasian girl playing with clay
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There is a good reason why commercial play dough has been a best seller for more than half a century—it’s fun! The classic version is usually recommended for kids aged 2 and up, and you can use various types of molding dough with your young toddler as long as you supervise him closely. Waiting until your child is two is probably safer since you might be better able to teach her not to put the dough in her mouth, which is important because even if store-bought or homemade play dough is non-toxic, only edible versions like peanut butter play dough are safe to consume.

Your 2-year-old toddler will also be more developmentally ready to play with play dough. When your toddler is ready, try these fun activities.

Shape Squish

Exactly as it sounds, this activity is a good first introduction to manipulating dough with fingers. Before your toddler learns to roll it out or sculpt it into fancy objects, he will delight in the feel of the dough and the fact that he can change it by pressing a finger or clenching a fist around it. Roll a ball for him to hold. Shape a palm-sized square or triangle. Name the shape to introduce the concept to your little one, point out the color to build early vocabulary. Then just let him smash it up. This movement of fingers and hands actually stimulates the brain. It’s one of the easiest learning activities you can enjoy with your little one.

Pick a Tool

There are a host of great tools and play sets you can purchase specifically for play dough—or you can find tools around the house to use.

Some include basics like rolling pins and stampers while other play dough sets have detailed molds for making cartoon characters and race cars. Older toddlers may especially enjoy sets that include favorite characters or elaborate "bells and whistles." Cookie cutters are also the perfect tool for shaping play dough.

But you can also consider items like a garlic press (excellent for making string-like hair), rolling pins or even cups that can be used to roll the dough out, small bowls and containers (like those that hold Gerber baby food) that your toddler can fill up with broken off pieces of dough and then dump out, fill up, dump, fill up, dump out and fill again. 

Create Thematic Sculptures

As your toddler gets a little older, you can use play dough as a tool for dramatic play. Thus, your child can "cook" with the dough or shape pieces into bracelets and rings to wear as she plays mommy. You can take this concept a step further by helping your child create seasonal or thematic play dough creations. Use it to enforce other lessons she is learning, either with you or at school. For instance, maybe the two of you watched butterflies in the garden this morning; you can talk about the beautiful insects you saw as you make your own butterflies. 

Make Your Own Play Dough

Introducing simple recipes to toddlers can be a great way to make them part of the preparations for meals or—in the case of play dough—for play time fun as well!

Of course, it is easy and fairly inexpensive to purchase commercial play dough and other types of modeling dough, but when you make it yourself, the creation is part of the fun and your toddler will definitely want in on the action. Knowing how to whip up a quick batch of the stuff can also save you on a rainy day when your toddler wants to make play dough cookies and all the dough you have on hand is crumbly and hard. Here are a variety of fun options for making your own batch of dough whenever you need it:

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