Play idea: Playdough – Paraoa poke

Playdough is a safe and soothing material and provides children with a great sense of security – it cannot be ‘done wrong’ and is a satisfying sensory experience.

Level of complianceMain audienceOther


  • All Early Learning Services 
  • Educators, Teachers and Kaiako
  • Service Managers
  • Parents, Caregivers and Whānau

Children learn through play. Below is some information about a play idea for your children.

It is a useful material for arrival or when settling children. Children can help you make playdough.

Although clay and playdough have similar purposes their textures, consistencies and smells are different, and because of this they appeal to children for different reasons.

Playdough can help children to

  • develop hand, eye, arm and body coordination and finger and hand muscles through squeezing, patting, pounding, rolling, poking and pinching, cutting with scissors
  • dramatise about food and cooking and identify with the role of the family cook
  • be successful  playdough is easy to mould and manipulate
  • be creative
  • learn about science and maths  preparing, weighing, measuring
  • feel settled and safe.

Adults can support children by

  • providing clean, fresh playdough and changing it regularly
  • involving them in making the dough and discussing things like colour and texture, and what happens when liquids are added
  • making sure there is always dough available
  • sitting at the table with them and having a conversation, singing, imagining
  • joining in but not dominating play
  • storing the dough in an airtight container to keep it fresh.

Providing for physical activity

Children may pat, pound, poke, pinch and squeeze playdough. They break it into small pieces, roll, cut and make shapes out of it. Have a range of utensils and containers available for doing this.

Child-sized table and chairs allow children to comfortably spend time with these materials. The dough needs to be soft and easy to work with. By breaking it into different-sized pieces, children can learn to combine different pieces to make different shapes. Dough play works well when close to family play equipment and blocks as children often like to role-play with dough.

Ideas for equipment

  • tools for cutting, pressing and shape-making such as shape cutters, shells, garlic press, twigs, straws and rolling pins
  • cooking utensils including pots and pans, bowls, measuring cups and cooking trays
  • tea set
  • props to encourage dramatic play such as animals, fences, dinosaurs and rocks.

Making dough

Cooked playdough

  • 1 cup salt
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tbsp cooking oil
  • 4 tsp cream of tartar
  • food colouring

Mix dry ingredients together. Add water, oil and colouring. Blend until smooth. Stir over heat until mixture comes away from the sides, forming a ball. Tip the dough onto a board and knead well.

Uncooked playdough

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1 tsp food colouring
  • 1 cup water (hot water works best)

Put flour and salt in bowl. Mix water, oil and colouring and combine with dry ingredients. Knead well - extra flour may be required. Add items such as essences and herbs for different smells and textures.

Te Whāriki

Playdough can be used to support learning across all the strands of Te Whāriki. In particular, children's developing playdough capability is supported in the Communication strand, where they discover and develop different ways to be creative and expressive. It is also supported in the Exploration strand, where children gain confidence in and control of their own bodies. This includes active exploration with all the senses and the use of tools, materials and equipment to extend skills.

Settling to play with playdough can often provide children with a sense of security and a feeling of safety having started at an ECE service. This supports the Well-being strand, where children's emotional well-being is nurtured and the Belonging strand, where children begin to feel comfortable with the routines, customs and regular events.

This play idea has been developed for playgroups. Feel free to use it at other types of ECE service, but make sure you're still following the regulations and licensing criteria that apply to your service type. Parents may also find this information useful.

Last reviewed: Has this been useful? Give us your feedback