I’ve always loved play dough, and most of my students love it, too. However, I sometimes have trouble coming up with interesting and functional ways for my students to use it, especially when I’m working with a student with autism who is rigid in his/her play.
Below are several ideas I’ve had success with over the years. All of these are ideas I’ve found online or learned from other teachers. And, since I’m always looking for new ideas, here’s your chance to win the great game from Play-Doh, Smashed Potatoes. Just comment below about your favorite way to use play dough with your learners and you’re automatically entered to win!
And now, for some of my favorite DIY Play Dough games!
Play Dough Smash – I absolutely love this game! You’ll need play dough, a child’s hammer, and a die to play. Make several balls of play dough and place them on the playing surface. Players take turns rolling the dice, stating the number aloud, then smashing that number of play dough balls with the hammer. I especially like to play this game with the dice from ThinkFun’s Math Dice Jr because it includes two dice that only contain the numbers 1-3, which is great for early learners!
Feed the Worm – The only material you need for this game is play dough. I form one strip of play dough into a worm and make a little mouth for it. Then I model for the learner how I use other small pieces of play dough to feed the worm. The model sounds a little like this:
Me: Hi worm! Are you hungry?
Me (in worm voice): Yes I am!
Me: I have an apple. Do you want an apple?
Me (in worm voice): Yes I do!
Then I feed a small piece of the “apple” (a bit of play dough) to the worm. Then I ask my student if he/she wants to feed the worm. They can pick if they want to do apples again, or ask the worm about other foods. I can practice categories as well by having the worm respond with something such as, “I really like vegetables. Do you have any of those?” I can also work on further discrimination by saying something such as, “I love vegetables that are orange.” This games is a favorite for many of my learners. It’s also fun if the learner feeds the worm something he doesn’t like, because I’ll have the worm “spit it out” and make silly, exaggerated reactions. Finally, there’s the added bonus that the more the learner feeds the worm, the bigger the worm gets. All in all, a fantastic little game that’s easy to play.
Play Dough Excavation – This game requires a little more prep than those aforementioned. You’ll need play dough and objects to hide in the play dough. I usually try to select objects that are highly motivating for the learner and easy to clean off. Explain to the learner that the objects are waiting to be found, then let the learner find them. They can use their hands, or you can make it more challenging by having them use “archeological tools” such as toothpicks or tweezers.
Play Dough Sort – I usually play this one with play dough and pipe cleaners, but it can be played with any small, single-color objects. Place several balls of play dough around the playing surface. Then give the learner several pipecleaners. The learner then sticks the pipe cleaner in the play dough that matches in color.
Toothpick Structures – For this game, all you need is the play dough and a box of toothpicks. Let your learners explore the toothpicks, then challenge them to make different structures, specifying the number of toothpicks they can use, the height of the structure, etc. This is a fun one for kids who are especially motivated by building activities. It’s also great when you have a longer block of free time.
Matching Games – There are several variations of this game. Prior to play, you should make several play dough “pancakes” (large, flattened surfaces.) Then, take out several toys your learner plays with that have feet (such as plastic dinosaurs, action figures, etc.) Make footprints in the play dough. Then, your learner has to match the footprints to the correct object. You can do the same activity with different kinds of pasta, vehicles, letters, etc.
For more play dough ideas, be sure to check out my Play Dough Games pinterest page!