4 Simple Playdough Literacy Activities for Preschool Children

learning with playdough

I used to think that playdough was just for fun. It is fun, but did you know that working dough and clay is academic work?

Playdough literacy activities are a really great tool for growing brains. Let me tell you what I’ve learned and 4 early literacy activities you can try with playdough today or pin for later.

But first, if you need a recipe for quick no-cook playdough, go to my post here.

Letter Learning Mats

Why play dough is important for preschoolers

Hand strength

First, using one’s hands to mold and knead a substance like dough, for example, builds hand muscle and tendon strength and agility – those fine motors we hear about. Studies have shown (link) that motor skills in children are linked to academic performance. There are many reasons for this.

Even if a child is not interested or ready to add letter recognition or shaping, try to include it in your routine. Playdough discovery, the activity of working with it for play is a great exercise and sensory experience for developing brains – in addition to fun.

Pre-writing skills

It makes sense that the effort it takes to handle and manipulate play dough would increase the control one has on a writing utensil.

When little hands are strong they are confident.
When they are confident they are willing to try.
When they are willing to try they grow and then excel.

Admittedly this is highly optimistic (one of my blessings and curses), but if I can give my child any extra help to excel and grow, I want to do it. Do you feel like that, too?

Early literacy

In addition to growing hand strength and agility, playdough (and similar substances) are used in more ways than kneading and molding.

Educators use the dough to learn in many ways, for this post I limit it to letter recognition and formation. Among the limitless possibilities, below are four examples of early education activities to do with playdough.

Sensory Experience

Did you know that every person has sensory input needs and they are all unique? Playdough can be an excellent tactile experience for busy growing hands. Sensory-seeking children can squish, stab, pound it. Many people also find that manipulating play-doh to be a great way to relieve tension and stress.

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quick no-cook playdough recipe


Playdough Literacy Activity One: Cutting

I do not know why, but preschool-aged children love to cut playdough with scissors. Cutting or scissoring is an important skill for early learners, so anything that encourages a child to practice is a great idea.

Cutting helps develop fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and bilateral coordination (using both hands) among other skills. You can read more about the benefits of cutting here. All of these help build the foundation for writing.

Cutting paper or cardboard can be a little discouraging for little hands, so a gateway substance that is so satisfying to manipulate is helpful and kids love it! You can use regular child-size safety scissors or scissors that are specific for the use of playdough or clay.

I linked a set of them below that you can buy from Amazon.

Playdough Literacy Activity Two: Writing Surface

Roll the dough out to create a flat, smooth surface. Use an implement such as a toothpick, a stick found on a hike, or even a pencil.

Show a child a letter on a card or page. Name the letter and make the letter’s sound. Ask the child to copy the letter into the dough with their writing implement.

For even younger children, allow them to press the corresponding letter shape with something such as a dough cutter or magnetic letter, into the dough.

Below are some excellent playdough and clay tool kits that you can purchase on Amazon, but it is also great to re-purpose things you have around the house.

Playdough Literacy Activity Three: Sculpt Letters

Form sculpted letters: Have the child roll the dough between his hands to make a long playdough “snake”. The first few times, this might be as far as you get.

Show him how to pinch off lengths to form the shape of letters. Say the letter name and the sound the letter represents. Help him build the letters with the dough.

I have found starting with the first letter of their name to be a great way to get resistant children interested in letter recognition and formation.

Letter Learning Mats

Activity Four: Press in

Press-in letter building: place a mound or disk of dough on the table. Using glass beads, small stones, dry beans, or similar small items, have the child make the shape of the letter by pressing the objects into the dough.

See the pin on Pinterest for an example of pressing in letters shapes (and many for playdough ideas).

If a child is not ready or interested in pressing in letters or numbers, that is OK. Try starting with pressing in various loose parts just for fun. My friend at mulberrytoes Etsy shop here sells gorgeous loose parts kits that children can use to press into playdough for imaginative play and fine motor development.

If you need a recipe for homemade quick no-cook playdough, go to my post here.

playdough recipe no cook

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Closing thoughts

Did you use to think that playdough was just for fun? Working dough and clay is much more!

It is useful for growing hand strength, practicing cutting, letter recognition and so much more. Playdough is an excellent tool for developing minds.

How have you used playdough for learning? Comment below with your ideas.

Until next time!
Jaime Ragsdale

Jaime Ragsdale
Jaime Ragsdale, Founder of Altogether Mostly

About the author, Jaime

Here at Altogether Mostly, you will find grace, compassion, joy, and beauty. I use empathy and a little tough love to bring out the best in people. I live in the Midwest United States with my loving husband and awesome children. For more about me and Altogether Mostly, please visit my about page here.

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to share it. You can learn a little about me over HERE at About Me.

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