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Developmental and Therapeutic Uses for Playdoh

There are so many common household items and children’s toys that have great therapeutic value when used or playedLittle girl playing Play-doh with in certain ways.  Playdoh may seem like an item that children use solely for creative play, but it can be a therapist’s and parent’s go-to activity that is both fun and extremely beneficial to a child’s development.

Developmental Skills that can be optimized through the use of Playdoh:

  • Hand Strength Whether your child is smashing the Playdoh into pancakes, squishing it so it explodes through their fingers, or using the Playdoh tools to create a spaghetti dinner, the muscles in the hand are constantly working and the Playdoh acts as a resistive force.  This is a great activity for kids who have handwriting difficulties, complain of getting tired while writing, don’t have a clearly defined hand dominance or have overall fine motor delays.
  • Bilateral Coordination Activities that target bilateral coordination and are fun to do at home may be difficult to come up with, but Playdoh is a great solution.  Many kids who have challenges with bilateral coordination often have difficulty with daily tasks like using a knife and fork to cut food and tying their shoes.  Kids can roll the Playdoh out into a flat “pancake-like” shape and then practice using a knife and fork to cut the food into small pieces.  This is a safe way to practice cutting foods as plastic utensil can be used and doesn’t waste food.  Cookie cutters or actual Playdoh toys with imprints of real food can also be used to add another layer to this activity.
  • Practicing Writing and Drawing Writing or drawing shapes in Playdoh is a great alternative to traditional writing activities; it may be more motivating for some kids who have difficulty with writing tasks while offering a resistive surface which improves hands strength at the same time.  Roll out Playdoh (modeling clay can be substituted for older kids who may benefit from a more resistive surface) onto a cookie sheet or similar surface and use a chopstick, pencil, or even the child’s finger to write letters.  For kids who are just learning to write or have a hard time with letter formation, shapes can be substituted, or an adult or older child can make a light impression of the letter and the child can trace using their full force.
  • Tactile Sensitivities For children  with tactile sensitivities, they are often fearful of or hesitant to touch a variety of textures.  Playdoh is a great transition item to use to bridge the gap between common firm/hard surfaces which are often “comfortable” and the textures which a child is sensitive to, such a soft, sticky and/or mushy to name a few.  Playdoh is easy to clean up and can be used in a variety of ways (cookie cutters, incorporate it with a child’s trains or action figures, have a tea party, etc), making it the perfect tool to introduce to a child who may have tactile sensitivities.  A great way to progress after becoming comfortable with store bought Playdoh is to find a recipe online for making your own Playdoh at home. These are often quick and easy recipes using common household items and can usually be colored in a fun way; some are even edible making this a total sensory experience and a lot of fun!

Playdoh has so many uses besides being a fun and creative tool for play for kids, but because it is fun and so versatile, it is an invaluable tool for working on therapeutic goals at home. There really isn’t a wrong way to use Playdoh as long as your kids are having fun and using their hands to explore.

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How to Promote In-Hand Manipulation in Everyday Activities with Kids

In-hand manipulation skills are important for many everyday tasks, such as eating, writing, dressing, playing, and drawing. With all the busy schedules these days, it is often hard to find time to practice such skills enough.Mother practices hand manipulation with daughter

Here are ten ways to encourage development of in-hand manipulation through tasks and activities that you and your children already do!

  1. When putting change into a piggy bank, have your child pick up several coins with her fingers, one at a time, and transfer them onto her palm. With all of the coins securely held in her palm, she should then transfer one coin at a time into the bank.
  2. Play board games or any game involving small pieces (for example, connect-4). Have your child hold all the pieces in her hand, transferring pieces from her palm to her fingers, one at a time, as needed for the game.
  3. While eating snacks, have your child hold multiple small pieces in her hand, letting go of one at a time. Also, while eating a larger snack like a chip, have your child rotate it in-hand (turn it in a circle) before eating it.
  4. Use tongs or tweezers to pick up game pieces. You can also use them for crafts!
  5. Encourage your kid to do buttons, skips, and snaps independently or help you with yours.
  6. Ask your child for help with various baking and cooking tasks such as rolling bread or shaping cookies. She can also use tubes of frosting to help decorate cakes and cupcakes.
  7. If you are about to enjoy a pop, ask your child to help you open it. Do the same for opening and closing bottles or jars of various sizes.
  8. While drawingplace the crayon inverted (upside down) on the table so that your child has to turn it around with one hand before drawing.
  9. Complete a puzzle together. While figuring out where the pieces go, encourage your child to use one hand to rotate a piece until it fits in a spot.
  10. When writing with a pencil, practice rotating it around to erase with one hand or have races to see who can “shift” their hand down the pencil the fastest.

Do not let a learning opportunity pass you by! Keep an eye out for these everyday opportunities that can promote continued development of in-hand manipulation skills for your children. Without any planning, you can still easily help your children blossom and reach their full potential!

For more information on in-hand manipulation, see my previous blog.

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