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Connie McCarthy is passionate about her work as a teacher of young children. She has devoted her entire career to making sure that her students do well at school, right from the start. Connie has an undergraduate degree in Elementary Education, and a Master’s Degree in Special Education. She has been teaching first grade in East Providence, R.I. for 23 years, where she received the distinction of “Highly Qualified Teacher” by the Rhode Island State Board of Regents. Connie also taught nursery school for four years, and published numerous articles on early education in East Bay Newspapers in Bristol, R.I. She’s also been published in PTO Today Magazine. She lives with her husband, Brian, and has a daughter and a son, both young adults. Connie enjoys reading, writing about elementary education, and taking long walks with friends. During summer vacations, she likes to travel with her husband. She also loves reading readers’ comments on her weekly blog posts.

Holiday Vacation Activities: Make Your Own “Play Dough” For Fine Motor Fun!

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Looking for some parent/child "Holiday Vacation" fun? Try making your own “Play Dough!”

You will need:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1 cup water
    2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon food coloring
  1. Combine the flour, salt and cream of tartar in a large sauce pan.
  2. Mix in the water, oil and food coloring. Stir until well blended.
  3. The adult can cook and stir the mixture, over medium/high heat, until a solid ball forms.
  4. Remove from heat.
  5. Place the dough on a cutting board.
  6. When it cools a bit (warm to the touch, not too cool) you and your child can knead until smooth. Cooled dough can be stored in air-tight containers or zip-lock bags. This should last up to six weeks.

Once your play dough is cool and ready, make some “snakes.” 

  • Use a rolling motion to shape pieces of the dough into long, thin snakes. 
  • Use these snakes to pinch and twist into letters of the alphabet, words, shapes, etc. 
  • Practice cutting skills by letting your child cut the snake into smaller pieces with their scissors. Cutting into the dough, instead of thin paper, lets your child actually sense what cutting really “feels” like. 
  • Let your child “slice” the snake into sections with the side of a Popsicle stick. This pressing/sliding motion helps strengthen fingers for a better pencil/crayon grip.

Make a spider:

  • Start with a small ball of the dough. Let your child press the dough into a flat circle. 
  • Pinch, pull, and roll the remaining dough into 8 legs.
  • This activity can then be linked to “Little Miss Muffet” or “Itsy-Bitsy Spider” to reinforce rhyming. (Never miss an opportunity to rhyme!)
  • Roll and press the dough flat to create your own small “slate.” Use the edge of a Popsicle stick or unsharpened pencil to draw or make letters, words, shapes, etc. into the dough. The resistance of the dough strengthens fingers.
  • Use cookie cutters to press and cut different holiday shapes.

All these activities are great for increasing hand strength and manipulation skills. Rolling, pinching, pressing, pulling, and squeezing the dough helps your child develop a good pencil/crayon/scissor grip.Helping your child strengthen these fine-motor skills makes for an easier transition to neat, legible school work.







photo by Crystal, everystockphoto 

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