Updated: Jun 16
Playdough is an inexpensive tool to use in therapy that has unlimited uses. It is a staple in the coping skill toolboxes that I make with each of my clients. I also include a handout for parents to understand various ways playdough can be used as a coping skill. You can get the free PDF here.
Early in my counseling career, I learned that playdough was like a truth serum. You get a kid's hands busy and their defenses fall. They are able to process situations and emotions that have been pent up inside. Since then, I have learned many new ways to use playdough to help children process emotions, calm down when upset, and communicate.
I hunted to find some of the best ideas on the internet for how to use playdough for creative expression and this is what I was able to find. I hope you enjoy these unique, engaging ideas. You can broaden the scope of how to engage in therapy sessions by combining materials you may already have available.
by Full Bloom Creativity
Check out this amazing kit to make monsters out of playdough and other craft materials. This could be used to make worry monsters to battle anxiety, to process trauma, or use during the Halloween season when children are terrified of decorations.
I like the idea of combining many materials with the playdough to allow creative expression. Kits are great at finding their own way to express emotions through their creations.
I also need to find some of these little trays. They would be so helpful in therapy! Kids tend to use supplies until they are completely gone. I like the idea of setting out a reasonable amount of supplies and letting kids run with their creativity.
by Mama. Papa. Bubba.
This activity looks easy and could be a powerful processing tool. Kids could create their own unique characters, recreate their favorite characters, engage in storytelling, and discuss emotions.
This would be an ideal activity for client-centered play therapy, allowing the child to create and the therapist engaged and follow the child's lead. You could print two copies of the Lego character and mirror what the child creates. Don't miss my blog post with creative ways to use Lego in play therapy.
There is something healing and renewing about being out in nature. When you can't be outside, you can bring it into therapy. This activity appears to be soothing, calming, and satisfying.
If possible, this would be an activity to take outdoors. Have children gather flowers, leaves, sticks, etc. to use in the activity.
Similar to the nature imprints, this bug fossil activity requires kids to make imprints in the dough. You could gather the materials needed for this activity on the cheap at Dollar Tree. They usually have bug collecting kits with plastic tweezers and magnifying glass. They also carry small plastic bugs for sale.
You could guide discussion during play with metaphors about fossils. What kind of imprint do you want to leave on the world? What type of marks to you leave on the hearts of others? Which bugs are beneficial and which are destructive?
This could also be used as mild exposure therapy for children with fear of bugs.
Robots offer so many avenues to explore with kids! I immediately think of questions such as: What would it be like to not have emotions? What would you want a robot to do for you? What is the purpose of robots? When could having robots become a problem? Are there good vs. bad robots?
There are so many ways for kids to process, explore, and create with this activity. I also love the idea of combining so many different textures, especially using metal, as it is unusual for children to play with.
Related Post: Creative Intervention Round-Up: Cheap and Easy
by Mama. Papa. Bubba.
Kids love all things food and baking. I love the idea of making a cupcake decorating kit. This would take sensory play to a new level. You could use slime or a softer form of dough for the icing to go on top. This would provide a great mix of textures.
Kids, especially those with early childhood trauma, tend to have food issues. From hoarding, food aversions, and the desire to be nurtured, food is a common theme in childhood therapy. This activity could be used in family therapy both to allow parents to provide a special treat for kids, but also for children to act in a nurturing way back toward parents.
by Be A Fun Mum
Love. Love. Love. This picture screams portable sand tray. Its like doing sand tray with playdough as the medium instead of sand. This could be perfect for traveling therapists, as it would take up little space, no need to tote a sand tray, and you could switch out the kits to provide variety. Each kit has a different theme, allowing exploration of specific issues.
Homemade dolls are also another area to explore. Creating these with kids would be a fun activity as well. This is just a brilliant idea that could be used in so many ways.
Along the same line, these sensory jars would also be amazing for traveling therapists. Each jar has a different theme with the items needed for kids to play, create, and explore emotions.
These jars are available for sale on Etsy. There are tons to choose from. If you are looking for something preassembled and ready to go, this may be a great option.
This idea is also like sand tray but with playdough. It weaves in nature, toys, and texture to create a fairy scene.
It is peaceful, serene, and grounding with earthy materials. Essential oils could be used in the dough to create a deeper sensory experience.
by Frugal Fun for Boys and Girls
This is a fun idea for sciency kids who love to build and perform experiments. This mouse-trap type creation will allow kids to problem solve, and consider cause and effect.
Adding paper towel tubes, dominoes, blocks, and other items could take it up a notch. Hour-long sessions may not be enough when exploring these ideas!
My counseling kiddos love the Mouse Trap game. I made a video tutorial for how to use it in counseling. You can find it here.
by Science Sparks
This article shows how to create a brain model from playdough and what each part of the brain does. This could be a hands-on activity to allow kids to learn in a kinetic way.
Click here for more interventions on teaching children about the brain. It includes activities, printables, and videos to explain how the brain responds to stress and the fight or flight response.
Printable mats provide a backdrop for kids to use to create and play with playdough. It also provides a workspace for children to use while they play.
These free printable mats provide a background for kids to build on for their playdough creations. This one could be used with sand tray miniatures to create a town.
Combining the features from sand tray with the creative freedom to make anything from playdough opens new doors of expression. Kids will no longer be limited by the offered miniatures to communicate.
This site also offers free printable mats for playdough. These have a weather theme for kids to create weather patterns.
This could be an outlet for children to process trauma from weather-related disasters. They could create a tornado, hurricane, a flood, etc. with the playdough.
These free printables can allow children to process all sorts of food issues in therapy. It could be used in a non-directive way, allowing children the freedom to explore and create as they desire.
You could give directives to prompt kids to explore specific issues. For instance, you could prompt children to create a "yucky" plate and discuss the food items created. You could then process how to cope with having to eat foods they do not enjoy.
This could also be used to role play dinner time interactions in the home. What does the child want to happen meal times? What are ways to increase connection between family members? How are rewards and consequences used in the home?
These are basic body outlines to allow kids to create faces, clothing, and accessories to make their own characters.
Making feelings faces is a way to communicate emotions, build their emotional vocabulary, and to tell their own experiences.
They could create a character to reflect their sense of self, they could create characters to represent other people in their lives, or could create fictional characters.
by Teach Beside Me
These dinosaur outlines provide a way for children to create dinosaurs with playdough. There are many little ones who love to play with dinosaurs! They provide a way to process power, control, and vulnerability.
I have a long list of ideas for how to use dinosaurs in therapy. If you work with little boys, this is a must read article with TONS of ideas.
Playdough can get expensive. It never fails: you stock up on brand new Play-Doh containers and the first kid comes in and starts mixing color. Ugh. Now you have a stock of ugly grayish goo. Playdough can be created at home with these inexpensive recipes.
by Emma Owl
I found many articles featuring the "best" playdough recipe. They all had the same ingredients: flour, salt, vegetable oil, cream of tartar, water, and food coloring. This recipe seems to be the ideal combination to make playdough on the cheap that will last a good, long time.
by ABC's of Literacy
This is basically the same recipe as above, but uses a Jell-O packet instead of food coloring. I assume regular Jell-O with sugar would result in a sticky mess. I would definitely go for the sugar-free route. The fruity smells from the Jell-O would provide an additional layer to the sensory experience.
Similarly, this is basically the same recipe but uses Kool-aide instead of food coloring. It would be more affordable than the jello dough, but may not have the same texture. I have not created them yet, so I can't vouch for the differences between recipes. But, it is on my to do list!
Related Post: Lego Activities to Use in Play Therapy
This blogger shows how to use different colors, textures, and additives to playdough to give it a rock-like appearance. She shows several options to give dirt-like or rock-like looks for children to use in construction play themes.
Cloud dough looks super easy to make and could be very inexpensive. This one is at the top of my list to experiment with.
by Today's Creative Life
Playdough doesn't have to be dirty. Is soapy dough self-cleaning? This is an interesting idea...
by Frugal Fun 4 Boys and Girls
Honestly, this texture makes my skin crawl. However, kids may enjoy it. I have had kids throw balls of playdough in my sand tray before. I find it irritating, but for them, it seems to be exhilarating. Sigh. It's all about the kids, right?
With all of these creative ways to use playdough in therapy, we are going to need a way to store all of this dough. I ran across these brilliant ideas that may offer accessibility and ease of use in your therapy room.
by Mrs. Henry
This playdough cart is an appealing way to store playdough and make it easily accessible for kids to play with. I like the compartments for different tools and items to use with the playdough.
The build it binder caught my attention. What a fantastic idea! Some kids are naturally creative and know what they want to make and how to make it. Other kids want an instruction manual. It's interesting to see how the different personalities present during play.
Do you have a coffee pod storage rack you are no longer using? Fill it with playdough. How cute and useful!
This article also offers some other useful toy storage ideas that may come in handy. It's worth the look.
Playdough containers fit nicely inside spice racks. You could use the spice containers to hold your homemade playdough. It makes a beautiful display. You kind of get the useful storage that looks like a décor piece.
This is a practical way to store your playdough and would provide for easy clean-up. No hunting on the floor for missing lids! Everything can be stored away in one container and would fit nicely on the shelf with games or in a cabinet. Normal playdough containers are not great for stacking.
Now you are prepared with all things playdough for your kiddos! I'd love to hear your experiences and what you loved and didn't love. Buying counseling materials can get costly. Hopefully, these ideas will help reduce costs and increase creative outlets for healing.