Playdough - A Fabulous STEM Learning Opportunity
Not only is making homemade playdough a great sensory experience, it provides an exceptional play-based learning opportunity in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths (STEM).
Article written by Carmen Watkins, K-12 Education BDM, Kookaburra Educational Resources
Play-based learning is important for children’s early cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development. It helps them to become autonomous learners, develop their fine and gross motor skills, foster their creativity and imagination, and build confidence and social skills.
Future careers will rely heavily on ‘21st century skills’ — for example, critical thinking, creativity, cultural awareness, collaboration and problem-solving. According to the Australian Government, it’s predicted that future workers will spend more than twice as much time on job tasks requiring science, maths and critical thinking than today.
Why is homemade playdough important for STEM?
Playdough really can encompass all the STEM disciplines without being a forced learning experience. For example:
Science | Making animals or people out of playdough promotes biological science learning. Following a recipe and instructions, counting out cups, stirring and mixing and just being able to spend time on a collaborative project with an adult are all meaningful and important experiences!
Technology | Using different utensils or tools to cut, roll and shape the mixture. Add some wheels to create a motion force vehicle.
Engineering | Playing with playdough provides an open-ended medium that can be used in many ways, including building, construction and even physics!
Maths | Taking the dough apart and putting it back together is using concepts like ‘part to whole,’ and exploring 3-D and 2-D shape awareness. They are also estimating and measuring, exploring weight and volume.
Additional benefits include:
- Increased curiosity sparked by imaginative, open-ended play
- Language development through conversation, referring and storytelling
- It has a calming effect
- It’s fun!
How to make homemade playdough
Playdough had its humble beginnings as a commercial product (called PlayDoh) introduced to schools in the U.S. city of Cincinnati in the 1950s. Homemade playdough is inexpensive and quick to make, and it lasts for months stored in sealed packaging.
There’s plenty of recipes available online, but a quick survey of the staff at Kookaburra Educational Resources voted the following recipe to be the easiest and most effective in the creation of soft, squishy, long-lasting playdough. It is also safe for younger children who may be inclined to give it a taste!
Large pot, metal spoon for stirring, snap lock bags for storage
- 2 cups plain all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup salt
- 3 Tablespoons cream of tartar
- 2 cups lukewarm water
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil (vegetable or coconut work well)
- Food colouring, sparkles, essential oils (optional, but fun!)
Place flour, salt, and cream of tartar together into a large pot. Stir to combine.
Add the water and oil to the mixture (if you are only making one colour, you can add the colour now).
Cook over low/medium heat, stirring constantly. Continue to stir until the dough has thickened and begins to form into a ball (it will continue to cook with residual heat).
Allow to cool slightly and then knead until smooth. If you are adding multiple colours - divide dough (into how many colours you want) and then add the dough into the snap lock bags before adding the colour (to avoid stained fingers!). Alternatively, gloves would be recommended. Knead the dough to disperse the colour.
Tools to enhance play and learning opportunities
Playdough is an amazing tool on its own, but it really excels when combined with a few tools, creating an unlimited myriad of imaginative ideas. All products are available on the Kookaburra Educational Resources website.
- Dough extruders
- Accessory Set
- Dough Characters
- Dough Scissors
- Mini Cutters
- Alphabet moulds
- Shape Makers Set
- Cream of Tartar
- Food colouring
- Construct 'n' Play
Did you enjoy this activity? Be sure to check out our other educational activities - they're perfect for babysitters and parents to do together with children.