Exactly as it sounds, this activity is a good first-introduction to manipulating dough with fingers. Before he learns to roll it out or sculpt it into fancy objects, your young child 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 (and maybe one of the silliest) "learning" activities you can enjoy with your little one.
Pick a Tool
There are host of great tools and play sets you can purchase specifically for playdough. Some include basics like rolling pins and stampers while others 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." But, in all honesty, you can pick up any of a multitude of items lying around the house and make it into a playdough tool. Cookie cutters (compare prices) are a personal favorite. 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...
Create Thematic Sculptures
As your toddler gets a little older, you can use playdough 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 playdough creations. 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. My daughter loves this kind of play, but I have to admit that I always feel a bit of pressure since I am far from a crafty person. One thing that helps is looking at the Hasbro Gallery of Ideas for tips on crafting a wide variety of items such as a flower, fairy, or football.
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 playdough --- for playtime fun as well! Of course, it is easy and fairly inexpensive to purchase commercial Play-Dough or other brands of modeling dough, but when you make it yourself, the creation is part of the fun. 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 playdough cookies and all the dough you have on hand is crmbly and hard. Here are a variety of fun options for making your own batch of dough whenever you need it: