Free play: 7 skills you can learn with play dough

play dough as a learning tool

Abby and her play dough cakes.

Sometimes the best playtime is free time.

I’m working really hard this summer to let the kids have free time every day. Today that turned in play dough (and a huge mess).

I admit, I use the commercial play dough. Not because it’s cheaper – but because it’s already made. Plus I already have a ton and don’t feel like making any. It’s a mess to make, as well as a mess to clean up. Since I already have it made, when I use that it’s only half the mess (just the clean up mess, not the making mess). And it comes in really great colors. Bright, vibrant colors.

So they kids pulled out the play dough bin and got to work.

Here’s the 7 skills they learned and worked on with play dough:

  • Cooperation (they had to share the tools and the play dough)
  • Creativity and Art (you should see the things they come up with)
  • Physics (how high can you build something before it topples)
  • Sharing
  • Fine motor skills (cutting it with scissors)
  • Gross motor skills (making balls and rolling them on the floor)
  • Cleaning skills (they made the mess, they can help fix it).


It’s a messy free play activity – or it can be messy. With my kids it is certainly messy. But if you make them help you clean up, it reinforces some good habits (and gives you help cleaning).

Free play also allows the kids to express themselves. I got about 10 birthday cakes, 2 castles, 3 cars, and a whole host of animals (none of which I recognized and used the universal “ah, that’s nice” comment).

What was best about the whole thing is that the kids played together. I could hear the scuffles they had. But I sat in the kitchen, cleaning dishes, and refused to interfere. They made it through the scuffles with some serious negotiating skills (Abby got the pink play dough in return for giving Nicholas the knife and roller she was using).

Best of all, they worked all kinds of skills and had a bunch of fun without me having to “lead” them in any activity.

Happy summer!!!

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