Play dough is my jam! How about you?

My Squishy Squashy Soapbox

D.C.N. Developing Child Note: The fine motor skills of young children are rapidly developing in the first 5 years. Little fingers are feeling, pushing, pulling, pinching, poking, and playing with all types of materials. The development of small muscles found in individual body parts, especially our hands and feet, is referred to as fine-motor development. Sensory play is one of my favorite fine-motor activities. Children are naturally drawn to the manipulation of ewwy and gooey goodness in all varieties and settings. Busy hands signal strength building and control building exercise.

Social-Emotional Connection

Adults and children alike enjoy the physical and emotional release of working dough with their hands. Dough lends itself well to frustration squelching smashing (pictured above) as well as slow detail stress relieving work (not pictured). Years of dough work with adults and children has lead me to confident assertions about the social-emotional benefits of this kind of open-ended play. The sensory experience of dough work is inherently comforting to many.

In addition, scent has added to the sensory experience and stress relief of dough work for many of my students. Scents yield power through pleasant past experiences, and can immediately links us to positive memories (Shea, Katz, & Mooney, 2008). A familiar smell can also make a child feel at home in a new context.

Action Steps:

First, make some dough. I love this Craftulate recipe:

Second, pick a scent that you love or try a suggestion from a new friend.  I have made this recipe with fresh rosemary to rave reviews! My greatest hit was this with two tablespoons of dark cocoa powder and to tablespoons of instant espresso powder, Mochaccino. A hit with adults and children alike!

Third, Work it out!

– Smash, pinch, roll, and flatten your cares away
– Challenge young children with interesting tools
– Stretch vocabulary and fine motor skills with uncommon or unique kitchen tools, add:
      + A garlic press
      + A tenderizer
      + A whisk
      + A bamboo wok brush
      + A wok shovel
       + A potato ricer
       + A ravioli press
       + A Molcajete (Stone & Pestle)

Consider fresh connections with new scents!


You can make fresh connections with new scents as scents are deeply rooted in cultures. My childhood home often smelled like cinnamon and I liked it. Cinnamon is a common American comfort scent. However, it is not beloved worldwide. My Chinese and Italian friends are not as comforted by the scent of cinnamon. The smell of cinnamon doesn’t induce the same images of fresh banana bread, apple pie, and cinnamon rolls for them. Sometimes, I long to be back in the classroom so that I could use my favorite scented dough recipe to make a batch of dough that smelled like home to a new students from another culture. I wonder how more savory scented doughs could be enjoyed by all students. Cumin, masala, and coriander, oh my! What would your comfort dough spice be?

Are you with me? Do I need a nostalgic anecdote for play dough? Who doesn’t love it? Do yall have bad experiences that I should become more aware of in my practice? I am aware that some young children do have sensory sensitivities. All the more reason to offer a variety of

sensations so that we can assure that those fine motor work-outs are happening regularly. For sensory sensitive friend, my favorite “in the bag” experiences include shaving cream and food coloring can be found here.

Happy dough-ing!

Want to know more about the power of playdough?

Check out this post and read about play dough possibilities as well as find
ideas for household items that can be great improvisational tools from

Want a more texture focused experience?
Check out this NAEYC pdf of opposing dough recipes:

Shea, S. D., Katz, L. C., & Mooney, R. (2008). Noradrenergic induction of odor-specific neural habituation and olfactory memories. Journal of Neuroscience28(42), 10711-10719.

Grissmer, D., Grimm, K. J., Aiyer, S. M., Murrah, W. M., & Steele, J. S. (2010).
Fine motor skills and early comprehension of the world: two new school
readiness indicators. 
Developmental psychology46(5), 1008.


Dr. Andrea Miller Emerson

Dr. Andrea Miller Emerson

Dr. Andrea Miller Emerson is an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education in the Division of Education and Leadership at Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Oregon. Andrea lives (and laughs frequently) with her husband, Kyle, and her cat, Zuzu. She brings diverse personal perspectives to early childhood education and care from her father’s Colombian heritage, her mother’s all-American culture from North Texas, her ongoing involvement with an Italian Immersion Program for pre-service teachers in Carpi, Italy, and her extensive international travel. To learn more about Dr. Emerson’s speaking engagements, or to invite her to speak, please click here.