Thursday Therapy Thoughts: Play-Doh


Who doesn’t love play-doh? It is another accessible therapy material that engages children and increases natural play to help promote, practice and help develop essential language skills. It can be used indoors, on rainy days and outside on sunny days. There is no limit to the fun and shared interest kids can have using play-doh.

Listed below you will find some of our favorite language skills to target using Play-doh in conjunction with some easy-to-follow activities.

  1. Using Play-doh to make a requests:

Whether your little one is a talker or not, requests can be made in multiple ways. If your child is NOT a talker, having play-doh in eye sight or at an arms reach for your child, can help to promote opportunities for request through gestures (pointing, eye gaze). These simple gestures aimed at a single object allow you to fill in the blanks for your child. For example, as they point to or look at the item of interest (play-doh) help validate their attempts by saying, “Oh. You want the play-doh? Let’s play with play-doh!” If your child is a talker, you can expand upon language or target sounds through requesting. So, if a child sees and/or points to the object and says ‘play-doh’ help them by giving them a model for increasing the number of words in their sentence. {Example: Let’s try that again, try saying: ‘I want play-doh’ or ‘can I have the play-doh’ or ‘can we play with play-doh, please’}. The number of words expressed will depend upon their age and development.

  • Using Play-doh to promote Yes or No responses:

Understanding language is a big part of communication that we cannot ignore. Allowing children the opportunity to practice responding to yes/no questions is a way for us to confirm that the child understands what we’re asking as well as understands how we’re going to use the toy/tool. So, asking your child, “Do you want to play with play-doh?” gives them a chance to respond in a way that let’s you (as the parent) know whether or not this is something they want to do. If a child responds with, ‘yes’, you can further use yes/no questions to enforce knowledge of how to play with play-doh. Ask them:

  • Should I put the play-doh on my head?
  • Should I eat the play-doh?
  • Should I put the play-doh in my pocket?
  • Should I put the play-doh behind my back?
  • Should I roll out the play-doh?

Appropriate responses gives you insight as to whether or not your child has a basic understanding of how these tools work and how they are intended to be used. If they answer incorrectly, it gives you a chance to teach them the appropriate response.

  • Using Play-doh for functional skills, like: counting, shapes and colors:

We love any activity that helps to teach and promote basic skills, especially in young children. Play-doh is a fun and interactive way to help teach/affirm skills associated with colors, shapes and counting.

  • Colors: When a child is requesting play-doh, you can offer a choice to help bring awareness to color (especially for kids ages 2-5). Ask the child: “should we pick the blue or the yellow play-doh?” When they make their choice, you can incorporate yes and no responses by holding up the blue play-doh and asking them, ‘is THIS one the yellow play-doh?’ No matter their response, reward them with validation by saying good job. If their answer is incorrect, give them an opportunity to try again.
  • Shapes: Play-doh offers so many manipulatives and kits to peak interest and learning. If children are learning/practicing their shapes, (YOU and) play-doh can help. Use the plastic shape molds to make shapes and lay them out for the child(ren). Ask them, “can you find the circle? The triangle? The square?” or, depending on their language levels and age, you could turn something like this into an I SPY game. Say, “I spy a shape with four sides and four corners”.  Help children generalize identification of shapes by allowing them to look for shapes outside in the yard or at the playground or inside your house. This type of scavenger hunt will help them see that shapes can exist in lots of different places.

*The tools that are included in the kits can be used to help practice object recognition and functions of objects. For example, finding the play-doh scissors and asking, ‘what are these?’ what do we do with these/how should we use these?’

  • Counting: Breaking play-doh apart into small amounts can be used as counting manipulatives. You can use them as tokens during play, as a reward, or as a shared activity. Again, depending on the age and development of the child, you can practice counting and number recognition with a fun and simple activity. Get plastic bowls, cups or plates. Use cards, numbered 1-10 (or higher if the child has awareness). Place them upside down in a pile. One at a time, each player selects a card. Children will have to say the number on the card and then count out pieces of play-doh to correspond to the number on the card. (example, #4 yields 4 pieces of play-doh).
  • Using Play-doh to practice a target sound:

If a child has a specific sound they are working to produce, play-doh can be a great way to help target and practice this skill. As you are playing with play-doh, the child can say/elicit the sound (ex. /s/) while rolling out or breaking apart the play-doh. The adult can withhold a certain amount so the child can request more, or practice saying sounds in a more targeted manner before obtaining more play-doh to play with.

  • Using Play-doh to practice a target word/sign:

Similar to practicing target sounds, if a child is working to produce a sound at the word level, have them repeat/read words (3-5) before rewarding them with more play-doh. If they’re practicing a sign (like ‘more’), after you give some play-doh to play with, prompt the child by asking them, “Do you want more play-doh? How can you show/ask me?” As the child gets more comfortable and consistent with using sign, prompts may be discontinued. You just have to give enough wait time for the request to be used.

  • Using Play-doh to practice simple ‘wh’ questions:

Asking ‘wh’ questions is a great one-on-one or group activity that can be facilitated with the use of play-doh. You can ask the child(ren), ‘who has the red play-doh? Yellow play-doh”’; or, ‘what should we use to roll the play-doh out?’; or, ‘when should we take the play-doh out? Before we open the jar or after?’; or ‘There is no more yellow play-doh, what should we do now?’

Using language in a play-based setting helps to facilitate language in a natural way allowing children the opportunity to use language instinctively.