Any material where the children can be imaginative lends itself to child-led play. Play Dough is one of the best child-led play materials, it fits my criteria as a quality toy. It is also a great sensory experience, especially if you make it from scratch. Many materials can be added to play dough to help improve child-led play.
Our Child-Led Play with Play Dough:
We use cookie cutters quite often to get a little more exercise for our finger muscles. Sometimes I will set out just letters and numbers, shapes, or our “miscellaneous” bit of cookie cutters. To be honest, the miscellaneous bit is the kiddos favorite because there are animals, vehicles, and people. These more open-ended cookie cutters allow for more child-led play than letters and numbers.
Lately we have been using spoons, knifes, and bowls. Adding these to just about anything truly lend itself to child-led play. Children love to imitate what they see in their life. A lot of the kids enjoy pretending to cook things. We have been cooking a lot of Birthday cakes. We purchased our materials from the dollar store but these play-Doh tools from Amazon have added a lot of child-led play in previous groups I have worked with.
I enjoy being able to watch the kiddos play with each other on their own terms. Our friends who have a tougher time playing at times seem to play better in these types of settings. They share a bit more and get angry a bit less. It is encouraging to see everyone play together during our morning activities.
Our most recent interaction with Play Dough we added dinosaurs, bugs, and horses. The kiddos have been asking for dinosaurs with everything we play with lately. I love when they ask for certain materials because that tells me they have an idea in their head (and they enjoy playing with those toys). We were really enjoying making beds for all of the animals we have.
When they are directing their own play I see their play lasting longer because they are more engaged in what is going on than if they had a teacher-directed activity. With child-led play I play *with* the kiddos and ask questions about what *they* are doing. At times I will talk through what I am doing with the materials, “I am going to make a cake!” or “I wonder what happens if I push the bug into the play dough.” Talking through what I am doing will help the children think of other ways to use the material. You can read more about how I direct child-led play here.