There are so many ways that play dough can be used to help children along their path of development.
We connected with Gillian Holbrook, mom of three, preschool teacher, and the woman behind My Three Little Strawberries Blog and Instagram, to hear from an early years expert on how she’s using play dough to support her children and students physical and cognitive development.
Dough Parlour: Can you start off by telling us a little bit about yourself?
Gillian Holbrook: Absolutely. I’m a mom of three girls – Isabella (4), Sophie (15), and Megan (16). I’ve worked as a preschool teacher for the past 20 years and early years education has always been my passion. I’ve been lucky to work in many different roles, including as a Montessori school teacher and the Early Years Officer for the UK Preschool Learning Alliance. Although, being a mom myself has probably taught me the most.
DP: What inspired you to start the @my_three_little_strawberries Instagram account and blog? And what’s your current vision or goal for it?
GH: I was inspired to start my Instagram account when I had Isabella and was at home much more often. I joined Instagram as I had a bit of spare time and then I began sharing some of the activities I was doing with the girls. I never imagined I would have even 100 followers, never mind almost 10,000!
I suppose having some followers gave me a bit of confidence to invest more time in building @my_three_little_strawberries. So I started sharing more and things naturally grew. I can’t imagine blogging about anything else – you really do have to have a genuine passion for these things.
I love getting messages from people when they’ve tried out an activity or a product I recommended and enjoyed it. I’m a bit like a child myself and truly love the activities and toys (maybe even more than the children sometimes!).
I don’t necessarily have a specific vision or long-term goal for the account – I just take it day by day really. I go with what the girls are interested in and what inspires me at the time. Maybe one day I would love to have my own toy shop selling all these wonderful products that excite me, but I don’t know if I’d want to let them go. I think truly my dream would be to win the lottery and open up the most magical, beautiful place for children to come and enjoy.
DP: You have a lot of great content on your Instagram profile and blog around sensory play. Can you share a few benefits of using play dough for sensory play?
GH: Where do I start? Play dough has so many benefits and I believe it’s so important for all children.
First, it’s fun! Children love to get messy, and to me, play dough is not too messy but just enough to provide that tactile sensory experience.
It’s so good for their development, from using those fine motor skills when they squash and squeeze it to developing muscles and tendons in their little hands for pencil and scissor control. You can even incorporate some math by rolling balls and counting them or cutting out shapes.
Play dough is also really great for concentration - children don’t even realize they’re doing it or how much they are learning, as it’s all done through play and fun.
I love using The Dough Parlour products because they add an extra sensory element to the experience with their amazing scents. I’ve tried a lot of play dough and Dough Parlour’s has got it just perfect. It's not too strong of a smell and it’s also the perfect texture so you can always cut out the best shapes.
DP: What are some examples of activities you’ve done with your children or students with play dough?
GH: Really, the best way to use play dough is to just let the children enjoy it, experiment with it, and use their imaginations. Giving them some tools and cutters is great for gross motor skills or you can even add in some nature by collecting shells, pebbles, or flowers to help them learn about the world around them.
We love to chop up the dough with a knife to develop hand and eye coordination or roll it out into letters to help with spelling and learning new words.
You can also turn it into a science activity by talking about how the play dough is made and why it changes consistency from a liquid to a soft dough.
Another type of activity that works quite well is using play dough to learn about other cultures and traditions. So for example, around Saint Patrick’s Day, you could use green dough to make shamrocks or rainbows, and talk to your children about Irish food and traditions.
I could go on and on about the benefits, but over the past year, when children’s environments and daily routines have been more uncertain because of the pandemic, I think one of its best uses has to be as a mindful activity to let children just relax, unwind, and create. They can squeeze it if they are feeling frustrated with the world or they can turn it into something magical like a rainbow or a unicorn.
DP: What suggestions do you have for teachers or parents looking to incorporate play dough into their playtime with young children?
GH: Most importantly – do it at their pace. Maybe have it available on a low shelf so they can access it when they’re in the mood or feeling creative.
It’s also a super activity to do when they get tired. Playing with the dough really is relaxing and I’ve found it really helps with calming my children down.
And lastly, and I know this is a hard one, but let them mix it up and watch how the colour changes, or try adding some rice to give it a new sensation. Bio Glitter is one of my favourite things to add for the visual experience. So don’t worry too much about things looking ‘perfect’, just let them create!
Featured image by My Three Little Strawberries