Friday, January 29, 2010

Frugal Fridays (Vol. 1): Play Dough in the Tutor’s Toolkit

If I had to make a list of must-haves for my tutoring and home educator toolkits, play dough would be high on it. And not just for molding and crafting. Truly, playdough is an adaptable, effective learning tool! And, if you stay away from store-bought Play-Doh, it is extremely cost-effective, too. In less than a half hour, you can easily make a batch of homemade playdough right from your kitchen cabinets. Or, if you, like me, have a mostly organic kitchen pantry, you can do so after a quick stop at the store to pick up generic brands of flour, salt and cooking oil.  (See recipe at the bottom of the post.)

Once your playdough is made, you are ready for a wide variety of planned and impromptu activities to practice reading, writing, arithmetic and other skills. How, you might ask. By keying into children’s learning styles and emerging needs. With a keen eye for how a student learns (we’re talking through games, songs, kinesthetic learning, tactile learning, visual learning, etc.) and a sense of what a student needs to practice (letters, numbers, spelling, math concepts, etc.) or desires to explore (creative retelling of stories, concepts of size, weight and measurement, etc.), plus a bag of playdough on hand, you are ready for fun, effective lessons.

Some examples of activities I have done with playdough  in the past few weeks while tutoring are:
  • tossing a playdough ball back and forth while chanting the ABC’s at different paces and rhythms with a first grade who is very kinesthetic and tactile and still struggling with simply knowing the alphabet.
  • passing a playdough ball back and forth while skip counting by 2’s, 3’s and 5’s with a fifth grader who doesn’t know her multiplication facts yet, but loves games and seems to benefit from auditory learning practises.
  • stamping consonant-vowel-consonant words into playdough with a young boy is just learning phonics, but who is “done” with ‘real books’ by the time I meet with him each day, wants to ‘just play’, even if his mom and I know he needs to practice spelling and reading.
  • breaking a large portion of playdough into parts to visualize match concepts like fractions, number facts, etc. with a gal who learns best ‘by seeing’.
  • rolling playdough into snakes and shaping these into letters with a tactile/visual student who is still trying to discern p/b/d/q, m/n, w/v, etc.
And, at home, we have used playdough to:
  • explore big, medium and small sizes.
  • make snowmen to go along with our book study of The Biggest Best Snowman by Margery Cuyler.
  • familiarize ourselves with letters and write our names, by stamping different letters into rolled out playdough (so much neater than using ink with young ones!)
  • create all kinds of winter creatures.
Truly, the number of learning activities that can be enhanced and effectively taught using playdough is only limited by one's imagination. As such, I always try to keep some playdough on hand when teaching.

If you want to as well, but don’t have your own favorite recipe for homemade playdough, you can try this basic one  that I used the other night between making dinner and running out to tutor:

Measure 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup salt, 1 tablespoon cooking oil, 1 tablespoon cream of tartar and 1 cup of water into a cooking pan. (Add your choice of food coloring to the water if you wish before adding it in.) Then, stir constantly over low heat until the mixture starts to stick together, pulling away from the sides of the pan and forming a ball.  It will be less wet-looking at this point.

Then, turn the mixture out onto your countertop and knead for a few minutes, or until very smooth. (It dough will be warm when you start kneading, of course, so wait a few minutes if you need to.  Also, some dough will likely be stuck to the sides of the pan.  Just soak the pan for a bit and it should come off without too much trouble.)  While kneading, at scents, glitter or other enhancement sif you wish.

Finally, cool and store in a covered plastic container or a Ziploc bag to have on hand for planned and impromptu lesson activities.

That's it.  PLAYDOUGH -- an economic, effective and engaging tool for teaching!

(For other folk's Frugal Fridays tips on everything from laundry to outfitting a minivan, go to Life as Mom.)


Megan said...

This was very useful information. My kids love playdoh. In addition to the great educational benefits, I take playdoh time (when the kids are relaxed and focused on one acitivity) to simply have some great conversations (some serious and some not) with them.

Martianne said...

Very good point, Megan. It is true that whenever the kids are engaged in something creative and fun like playdough, it is a perfect time to enjoy conversation with them. My only problem is that I am sometimes tempted to pass up such opportunities in lieu of the spare moments it gives me for a ten minute tidya, a quick email check or lesson prep for work. I need to remember not to do that too much! Thanks for the reminder. And, thank you for commenting. Have a blessed day!

Lenetta said...

Thanks for writing all this out - it sure gives a different perception on the squishy stuff! :>) I linked to this on my weekly roundup, the post is under my name. Thanks for sharing!


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