You can squish it, you can smoosh it. You can use it for fun or use it for learning. Play Doh comes in nearly every single color imaginable. The creativity of using Play Doh is limitless. Playing with Play Doh supports imagination and supports fine motor skill development in younger children. On National Play Doh Day, let’s explore the origins of the childhood staple as well as some fun learning activities using Play Doh!
Some of the best inventions are things that came into existence accidentally. Velcro, Superglue, Post-Its! I can’t even imagine life without these things. Especially Post-Its. I LOVE Post-Its. Especially the accordion ones. SO. SATISFYING. But, we are in the midst of National Play Doh Day, so let’s dig into that.
We can go ahead and add Play-Doh to the list of accidental inventions. In the 1930s, the McVicker family owned a soap company called Kutol Products. The family made cleaning products including wallpaper cleaner. I was initially confused about the purpose wallpaper cleaner. I wondered why a household would need that as a popular product. Turns out, it was primarily due to the smoke from coal burning stoves and furnaces. It seems so obvious, but I really had no idea!
Since the wallpaper cleaner contained natural ingredients (flour, water, salt, etc.) and was non-toxic, it was a great, safe household product. In a putty form, the product was an effective way to clean the wallpaper, was reusable and didn’t stain the wallpaper! In its early stages, it had not yet been discovered to have other uses aside from its marketed purpose.
Thanks to teachers we have National Play- Doh Day
Eventually, Play- Doh found its way into classrooms where teachers discovered it was a great product to use with students for crafting and learning. Since it was reusable, teachers were able to use it in lessons and then put it away for another time. When a later generation McVicker learned that teachers were using it, he proposed re-marketing the product. This was to the advantage of Kutol Products since at this time, homes were largely running on oil instead of coal. Without coal heat, the was less need for wallpaper cleaning since oil was a clean burning product. McVicker branded the putty anew, calling it Play-Doh, and marketed it to schools and department stores.
Obviously, Play- Doh was a HUGE success. The newly minted Rainbow Crafts Company was the subsidiary that McVickers developed to make and sell Play-Doh to the public. Tapping into the market of children and families, McVickers’ company marketed mainly through the children’s TV show, Captain Kangaroo. Kangaroo had a huge viewership and this was a sure-fire way to reach a large audience of potential customers. Before the first year, Play-Doh and Rainbow Craft Company had netted nearly $3 million. So, yeah. Success.
What I love about products like Play- Doh is the longevity of it. The staying power of a product I used as a child was also played with by my older family members as children. Nowadays, I get to watch my daughter play happily with her Play-Doh, sculpting and smooshing and having all the fun. Today, Play- Doh is owned by multi-national conglomerate Hasbro and sold through their Playskool line. Play-Doh is a staple of childhood, so much so that in 2003, the Toy Industry Association added Play-Doh to its “Century of Toys List.” Certainly, it deserves to be amongst other classic toys of the past 100 years.
How do we learn with Play-Doh?
Some of the most important skills we learn as children are how to think creatively and how to analyze or solve problems. These are all important skills to carry on into adulthood. By using Play- Doh in learning situations, children have to navigate different situations by experimenting with various strategies. When children play together with Play-Doh, they may have back and forth conversations such as, “You made a round ball! I smooshed my ball and made it into a flat tortilla!” This allows them to compare/ contrast their creations and decide what to pursue next.
Sometimes, when my kids are using Play-Doh together, I overhear one demonstrating to the other how to cut or create shapes using the cutouts. I love listening to these exchanges because despite their age difference of 7 and 3, it is generally an equitable exchange between the two of them and their decision making. Occasionally, it implodes into chaos, but that’s life with two kids regardless of age, ha. (Me giving side eye.)
SEL- Social Emotional Learning
One of my favorite things about Play-Doh for kids is watching them be proud of something they created. Play- Doh is such a therapeutic play tool. It feels nice, the creator is in control of manipulating the dough into whatever they so desire. In creating something that they are proud of, children learn to take pride in their work and to see something through from start to finish.
Additionally, Play- Doh supports the tougher feelings too! Having a bad day? Having some bad or sad feelings? Smash up some Play-Doh. Smooshing and pounding Play-Doh is a healthy outlet for all the feelings. Especially after a long day at school!
Play-Doh also helps children grow their imaginations and develop a healthy, creative mindset. You can guide your kids in what they make by suggesting they make a birthday cake or a snake. I love encouraging my daughter to make “food” with her Play-Doh. She is a great play and pretend kid and will make an entire pretend breakfast meal or tea party with her Play-Doh. Whether this comes naturally or not, it is a great way to stimulate creativity in little minds.
Literacy through play
When my son was in Kindergarten and learning virtually, we were worried he was going to fall behind. I know many parents can echo this sentiment and understand where I am coming from. It was a rough year for all. Ideally, we want our kids to experience Kindergarten just like we did by having fun learning and playing at school. During the virtual learning age, we were lucky enough to have an amazing tutor work with our son online. She did some amazing virtual lessons with him that blew me away for one, because kids and Kindergarten learning, but wow. One of my favorite things that she did with him was to have him use Play-Doh to create letters while they worked. They started with individual letters and moved up to words and his name. He loved it because he was able to fully engage with crafting the letters and words on his own. Seeing him create letters and words through a different medium was really amazing. He was so proud of himself and it was awesome to see him excited about what he had worked on.
Play-Doh can be used for nearly every subject with little ones! Making letters and words is a great way to engage reluctant readers and encourage kiddos on their path to literacy. Another option is to use the same concept with kids as they work on math skills. You can make numbers and practice simple equations or even apply math measurements to a simple DIY Play-Doh experiment and make it a science lesson! I googled “DIY Play-Doh recipes” and was blown away by the sheer volume of options to choose from, but also the differences in the recipes. I remember making Play-Doh at home with my mom and my younger brother a time or two when I was a kid. Obviously, it is an easy and relatively inexpensive thing to purchase at the store, but the fun of making it and seeing it through was just as exciting and special.
What can YOU do with Play-Doh?
To celebrate National Play- Doh day, try pulling out some of these dough crafts. You won’t need much more than some fresh Play-Doh, a clean surface and maybe some fun tools to experiment with, plastic knife, some cookie cutters, etc. This is a list of some of our favorite Play-Doh activities- some are even seasonal themed if you want to save them for the holidays!
- Number Writing Mats
- Kindergarten Rainbow Sight Words Mats
- 1st Grade Rainbow Sight Words Mats
- 2nd Grade Rainbow Sight Words Mats
- Alphabet Writing Mats
- Alphabet Coloring Pages (Use Play- Doh instead of coloring the letters!)
- Fall Themed Number Writing
- Winter Themed Number Writing
- Summer Themed Number Writing
- Christmas Tree Counting Mats (Use Play-Doh rolled into spheres instead of cutting out the ornaments!)
- Apple Tree Counting Mats (Use Play-Doh rolled into spheres instead of cutting the apples!)
- Number Writing Mats
The big question
Ok, so this is an important question for everyone. Do you like the way Play- Doh smells or not? (I do actually.) Let us know in the comments!
Courtney is an MTT tutor, academic coach, and blog contributor for MTTES. If you check out our FB and Instagram pages, you might see her giving a storytime with her son Jack through the company’s Facebook Live service. Courtney’s love of the English language, learning, and creative writing inspired her to contribute relevant content to teachers, tutors, parents, and homeschoolers seeking support across an array of trending topics. She and her teacher husband have two small children and reside in Baltimore, MD with their dog Lottie May.