Playdough has a lovely, mouldable texture that is easy to manipulate. It lends itself to unlimited imagination, creativity and sensory experience. My mother-in-law asked me “What do you do with it?” I replied “whatever you like!”. Many people will enjoy fiddling with it and may find it self-regulating or calming. Squeezing and squidging dough is like using a stress ball and can be very satisfying. It is a great activity for all abilities and lends itself to ‘going with the flow’. This means not being driven by rules or goals but being immersed in a process in which it is the journey that is important, not the end result.
- Some people may have allergies or intolerances to wheat or gluten when touched or ingested. Gluten free flour or shop bought play dough can be used as an alternative.
- Some people may exhibit oral sensory seeking behaviours i.e. explore by putting things in their mouth. Ensure you have read care plans or eating and drinking profiles carefully to check for dysphagia (eating, drinking and swallowing difficulties) or choking risk before carrying out this activity.
What you need
- 2 cups plain flour
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or coconut oil
- ½ cup salt
- 2 tablespoons cream of tartar
- 1 to 1 ½ cups boiling water
- Gel food colouring (optional)
- Few drops of glycerine (optional)
Alternatively, you can use ready-made playdough, pastry or pizza dough.
Guidance and instructions
- Mix the flour, salt, cream of tartar and oil in a large mixing bowl. Offer the person the opportunity to help make the dough if they want to, as much as they are able to, and is safe to, with support. The person can also explore the flour, salt and oil before or while the dough is being made.
- Add food colouring (if using) to the boiling water.
- Then add the water to the bowl, a tiny bit at a time as you might not need it all. Stir continuously until it becomes a sticky, combined dough.
- Add the glycerine if using.
- Allow the dough to cool then take it out of the bowl and knead it vigorously for a couple of minutes until all of the stickiness has gone. If sticky then add a touch more flour until just right. It should feel like pizza or pastry dough.
As much as possible allow for the person to make choices and explore the dough in whatever way they wish. Creativity can take many forms and is not about producing the perfect end result. You can facilitate their play, creativity and sensory experience by offering ideas, but do try to avoid being over directive. If you find free play daunting, choosing a theme might be helpful e.g. food, Halloween, Christmas.
There are endless ways that you can explore and play with playdough. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Some people may like to just touch, squeeze, squish, squidge or break it up.
- Play ‘where has my finger gone?’ – have fun hiding a finger in the dough and have it re-appear.
- See what people can do and enjoy doing and copying, e.g. ‘You can poke it, wow!, I can poke mine too’. Having a sense of achievement can raise self-esteem.
- Can you poke it with one finger?
- Can you hold it in one hand?
- Can you transfer to the other hand?
- Can you squeeze it?
- Can you put your hand in it?
- Will you tolerate it on your palm?
- Can you press your fingers in it?
- Can you make a ball or a sausage?
- Can you pull it?
- Can you snap it?
- Can you squash it?
- Make something for them e.g. ‘I made you an apple, munch, munch, munch’.
- Make ice creams.
- You could link the playdough activity with a story, song or nursery rhyme e.g. The Hungry Caterpillar, Five Currant Buns, Humpty Dumpty.
- When in a group you could play ‘who can make the longest sausage or the most balls’.
- Siblings might play alongside making letters, shapes, numerals or objects or engaging in imaginative play, such as making a zoo with the playdough and animal sounds.
What to observe, assess and record
- Watch for facial expressions and body language that may indicate what they like or dislike.
- How are they before, during and after the activity?
- What impact does playing with playdough appear to have on their mood, anxiety levels and general wellbeing?
© Sarah Hall, Willows Sensory Service
Email: [email protected]
See ‘Willows Sensory’ on Instagram and Facebook where Sarah posts ideas most days
Created October 2020