I’m sharing 12 fun play dough activity ideas that your toddler will adore. These activities are open-ended, so toddlers can play and explore as long as they want.
Do you have a toddler who seeks out creative and sensory play? Play dough is the perfect way for them to explore their creativity. It helps with cognitive and fine motor skills while stimulating the senses. Learn more about the benefits of play dough.
Play Dough + Mirrors
All you need is play dough and a mirror or mirrored tray. Place the dough directly on the mirror.
Your toddler can explore reflections and shadows while playing with dough.
Alternative: Prop the mirror up in front of the dough so your toddler can view their creations from different angles.
Play Dough + Nature Items
Add nature items such as pinecones, twigs, stones, acorn hats, shells, leaves, and flowers to dough play.
This is an excellent way for toddlers to explore nature and learn about different textures and shapes. Show your toddler how to gently press the objects into the dough to explore impressions and patterns.
Pretend Play with Dough
This is a great activity for toddlers who love to pretend play. Play dough can become a prop as part of an imaginative game.
- cookie cutters
- pie pans
- silicone baking items
- muffin liners
- pizza cutters
- citrus presses
- oven mitts
- toy tools
Pipe Cleaners + Dough Sculptures
This is a great activity for toddlers who love to play with pipe cleaners. They can use the pipe cleaners to create sculptures out of play dough.
Utensils + Dough
This is for toddlers who love using child-sized (or regular-sized) tools. Use play dough play as an opportunity for your toddler to practice using tools.
Show your toddler how they can use scissors, butter knives (plastic if you’re worried), tweezers, and more to play with the play dough.
Play Dough + Straws
Your toddler can explore dough using paper, plastic, and reusable straws.
- Wrap straws in dough
- Poke dough and explore holes
- Explore how differences between different types of straws
- Create sculptures using cut pieces of straws
Textured Play Dough
Add sand, glitter, or even rice to play dough to create new textures for your toddler to explore.
Rice and grains will absorb the moisture from the dough. So, maybe save this for dough that’s at the end of its use.
Dough + Object Prints
This activity helps toddlers investigate familiar objects in a new way. Offer your toddler some household loose parts and show them how to make impressions in the dough.
Explore patterns of items such as combs, keys, legos, fabric squares, or large buttons.
This activity gives toddlers information they can use for more complex dough creations in the future.
Check out the Loose Parts Material List for Early Learners for more ideas.
Play Dough + Toy Figures
For toddlers who love small world play, introduce toy animals, insects, people, or action figures to dough play. This adds an extra level of imagination and creativity.
Alternative: Toy cars, construction, or tractors
Dough Press + Smash
This activity takes a little extra preparation. It’s a great play dough activity for toddlers learning about their own strength or toddlers who are not comfortable touching dough. Toddlers get to experience dough through an entirely different sensation.
You will need two sheets of wax paper or parchment paper, approximately one foot long.
Place the dough between the sheets of paper and invite your toddler to press and smash the dough.
Alternatives for this activity include:
- Use a rolling pin
- Walk or stand on the paper and dough
- Smash with a toy hammer
Color Mixing with Play Dough
This might sound monstrous, but mixing different doughs is an incredible learning experience. Mixing colors introduces essential art principles that toddlers will use for a lifetime.
You can offer a muffin tin or sorting tray during this activity. This can prompt your toddler to sort out colors as they mix them.
Blocks + Dough
This is a unique twist on block play. Use the play dough between blocks while building.
The dough can also be used on the outside of block structures to create doors, windows, or any other brilliant ideas your toddler has.
When Can Toddlers Start Using Play Dough?
Typically by 18 months, toddlers can start using play dough. Until then, you can help them explore the play dough by:
Choose a non-toxic play dough or make your own at home.
How to Play With Play Dough
For toddlers and three-year-olds, dough activities should be incredibly open-ended. They are still investigating different ways to play with dough at this age.
Toddlers are also starting to learn about objects and their own abilities, so give them lots of opportunities to explore.
Here are some tips for play dough play:
- Give them a small amount of play dough to start with. You can always give them more if they want it.
- Let them play with the dough however they want, within safe boundaries.
- Encourage them to use their imagination and creativity.
- Let them explore the dough with their fingers, hands, and tools.
- Help them understand that play dough can be molded into any shape they want.
- Be patient and let them take their time. They will learn through play and trial and error.
Play dough promotes creativity and sensory learning, along with many other benefits. The activities suggested in this blog post are just a few of the many possibilities. Be patient and let your toddler explore the play dough, adding props and ideas to deepen their learning. Enjoy!