Putty and playdough (commonly known as Hasbro’s Play-Doh) are terrific occupational therapy instruments for enhancing and fine-tuning your child’s motor and sensory skills. By nature, playdough is fun and creative; and it can act as a tool to improve a wide range of developmental abilities such as hand strength, hand-eye coordination, finger dexterity, and even literacy.
Here are three great play therapy exercises your child can perform with playdough:
1. Go on a Treasure Hunt: Bury objects in the playdough and then ask your child to dig them out using their fingers. You can make an exciting treasure quest out this game; and your kids’ fingers will get an excellent workout! Afterward, if you’ve hidden shells, beads or other small decorative objects in the playdough, your child can string them together to make a necklace. This will provide additional bilateral coordination benefits, enhancing your child’s ability to use both hands simultaneously.
2. Make Shapes and Plan a Birthday Celebration: Have your child roll the playdough into different shapes, animals or objects. For example, in order to make a snake, you’re child will need to roll the playdough with both hands, applying just enough pressure to create the shape of a snake, but not too much pressure so that the body of the snake gets too thin and breaks off.
You can also have your child shape the playdough into a loaf, or several loaves of bread; or better yet, make a birthday cake! You can plan a whole birthday party with them: whose birthday is it? Who will be invited to the party? Where will the party take place, and what songs will be sung? Allow your child to choose the color and ‘flavor’ of the cake, and to decorate it accordingly with playdough stars, sparkles and other designs. When the cake is ready, you can have them cut straws into smaller candles and allow them to place the ‘candles’ on the cake. You’ll be giving them the opportunity to work on their bilateral cutting skills at the same time, holding the dough in one hand while cutting with the other.
Don’t forget to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ at the end of it, and blow out the candles. Have your child pull the candles out and put the playdough away. An awesome activity to do just before bedtime.
3. Playdough for Literacy: For older kids, you can let them roll the playdough into thin strips and then have them create letters with their fingers; they can spell their name, or the names of their best friends or pets; or they can form any of their favorite words or letters. This exercise provides a double bonus in allowing your child to increase their finger dexterity and bilateral coordination, as well as giving them some fun spelling and reading practice.
Playdough and putty can bring that extra stimulus, and provide the additional exercise needed to improve weak hands in children with neuromuscular challenges, or to boost a child’s underachieving muscle tone back up to par.
In order for children to develop good hand strength and coordination, it’s important for them to experience a wide array of gross and finer motor exercises. The best therapy exercises are those where the child doesn’t realize that they’re even doing an exercise.
When an activity is creative and fun, your child will naturally mirror your enthusiasm and follow along.