The benefit of learning through play

A word from reception teacher Danni Strange:

As a passionate Reception class teacher I love sharing and promoting play based learning experiences for young children. The Early years are paramount to children’s development not only for fundamental academic skills such as reading, writing and early numbers; the children also learn to negotiate, share, take turns in conversation and develop their own likes and interests.

So how is play dough beneficial for early learning?

Wow, the benefits of play dough… where do I begin? Most Early Years Foundation Stage settings in the United Kingdom have an area dedicated to play dough. To the naked eye this can appear to be a low level holding task, in fact what you’ll find is quite the opposite.

Creativity and Imagination:

First and foremost play dough is a creative medium that provides the children with unlimited possibilities in terms of moulding and expressing their imagination. Even from a young age, children create simple representations of people, animals and objects. This skill is a predecessor to the development of story narratives.

Social skills:

The play dough table is a great conversation station with children creating narratives around their objects, working through and discussing problems and also explaining their strategies and ideas for creation. It is important for adults to model this language while playing alongside their children e.g. “I am going to roll tiny balls of play dough to use for the eyes”.  Once the children have created their characters, they can create a story, there are some lovely examples of this in the Magical Forest blog post. Furthermore, if children are using play dough with siblings or peers it becomes the perfect situation to execute turn taking and the realisation that often you have to wait for resources.

Fine motor skills:

Play dough is incredibly malleable, durable and stretchy. For little fingers and hands the act of squishing, rolling and pinching all help to develop the muscles in their hand. Not only that, often when manipulating dough the children will use tools which requires control and precision. By enhancing the muscles in their hands the children are able to hold their pencil the correct way and have a firmer grip and better pressure when it comes to writing.


It has become increasingly important to equip children with the skills they require to identify feelings and to develop strategies to regulate these. One approach we are using is Mindfulness. The children are encouraged to focus on their breathing and to execute the ‘feel, stop, think, act’ process. Play dough is the perfect tool for this, particularly scented dough. The children can sit in one position focus on their breathing and complete repetitive actions such as rolling and squashing. We have found that as the children become more relaxed they are provided with a great opportunity to express and discuss their emotions.