Alphabet play dough mats in Queensland Beginners Font

How to Teach Phonics with Play dough

Playdough is always a favourite in my classroom. It’s ideal to use that interest for reinforcing educational skills and concepts. That’s the beauty of a play-based classroom. You can teach phonics and consolidate phonemic skills through the provocations and learning invitations you provide.

Playdough is a wonderful sensory experience. When you stimulate any of the 5 senses (seeing, touching, smelling, tasting or hearing) you are helping the brain to develop. When you ignite the senses of children, neural pathways are created in the brain. Current brain research suggests that sensory learning experiences will help children to LEARN more and RETAIN more too.

How to teach phonics with playdough?

Play dough by itself stimulates the sense of touch. Adding an essential oil to play dough will ignite the sense of smell.  Now 2 senses are being stimulated and those neural pathways in the brain are being created. If you want to teach or reinforce a phonics concept, add a phonics stimulus to the mix. The first phonics stimulus I always add is an alphabet play dough mat. This is how I teach alphabet letter symbols with playdough. Allow the children to feel the letters as they squeeze, roll and bend the playdough. They will be creating and accessing brain pathways through their sense of touch, smell and sight. When they form letters with the playdough you will be teaching phonic concepts they will remember.

koala play dough mat

The senses, being explorers of the world, open the way to knowledge. Our apparatus for educating the senses offers the child a key to guide his explorations of the world, they cast a light upon it which makes visible to him more things in greater detail than he could see in the dark, or uneducated state. (Maria Montessori: The Absorbent Mind)

I like to add props to my playdough table. This enhances the sensory learning experience even further. I use the props to teach and reinforces our focus letter sound. This is how to teach phonics with playdough.

For some information on phonological awareness or phonemic awareness, and how they relate to the teaching of phonics, please read this blog post.

Adding props to the play dough also develops more creative and critical thinking. The children will experiment and problem solve with the play dough and the props. Adding some well-planned and thoughtful props transforms a simple play dough experience into a learning provocation. You will also have the bonus of extending their oral language as they discuss the new props.

Choose props to match your phonics focus

As i already mentioned, the first prop I add to the play dough is one of my phonics playdough mats. I carefully designed each mat with a phonics theme in mind. For instance, when I use the /Hh/ mat with the beautiful image of herbs as the background, I also add either a vase of cut herbs or a small herb plant to the play dough provocation. The children’s fine motor skills can be further developed by adding scissors to cut some of the herbs. These cut herbs can be added to their playdough. Their sense of smell is awakened as they smell the cut and crushed herbs.

This learning provocation now encourages

  • open ended creative play
  • critical thinking and problem solving
  • extensive vocabulary development
  • added sensory stimulation
  • further development of fine motor skills

We all know how important revision and practice is in learning. You can’t teach a child once and expect them to have learnt the new letter and its corresponding sound. A new phonics concept needs to have exposure numerous times. It needs to be included in many diverse sensory experiences. The greater the number of opportunities, the stronger the brain and memory can connect, learn and remember. The more varied the opportunities, the stronger the brain and memory can connect, learn and remember.

Herb play dough alphabet mat for sensory play
play dough provocation props

How I teach phonics in my classroom

At my school, we teach phonics using The Jolly Phonics Program. At the beginning of the Prep year we focus on 3 sounds over 2 weeks. I explicitly teach each letter, sound and action. Then the children practice and revise these concepts during our investigation time. The play dough table is just one place in my room where they can do this.

Using my play dough phonics mats and related phonemic props to teach phonics means I need to change the play dough table around quite regularly.  It’s very easy to create a new learning experience with little effort. To introduce a brand-new provocation, all I need to do is swap the mat and a few props. The new props bring new learning opportunities. Oh, and the minute you add something new to an area, I can guarantee they’ll be lining up to get there.

 By providing students with materials that they can physically manipulate, play with and explore, teachers help them learn more about the world and develop crucial skills that they will utilize later in life. (Caitrin Blake, Concordia University Nebraska)

The letters featured in my mats are in Queensland Beginners Font.  You might like to have these beautiful mats in your classroom to help you teach phonics at your play dough table. The pack contains 40 mats in A4 size. They each have an authentic photograph background reflecting the associated phoneme. Every 26 letters of the alphabet are represented at least once. There are two mats for each vowel, with both the long and short vowel sounds included.  For repeated use, be sure to laminate the mats or slide them into a sheet protector before using them.

Everything we know about the world and ourselves has come through our senses (Bogdashina, Sensory Perceptual Issues in Autism and Asperger Syndrome)

I tend to make one batch of play dough each term. You will love my favourite play dough recipe. It lasts for ages and doesn’t need refrigeration. You can find it here.

Play dough Flowers. A sensory number provocation

Play dough Flowers— Number Provocations

I always link the provocations in my play-based investigation areas to our class learning intentions. I designed these play dough flowers for some number provocations I had in mind. They have turned out to be quite a handy resource.

I’ve frequently used them to teach number concepts in a variety of ways. I have been using them in quick transition activities, math warm-ups and also in whole class math games. They have been useful as a resource for my explicit teaching lessons too.  These flowers are ideal for use in quite a few different number provocations. I’ve outlined some number provocations and a few other ideas below.

These number flowers are a great addition to your playdoh table
Number provocation at the play dough table
Play dough provocation with printable flowers

I wanted a hands-on, sensory provocation to teach some number concepts. These flowers were originally designed to be used at the play dough table. The children loved them and before long number provocations started popping up everywhere! It seems I’m grabbing them more often for other areas in my classroom too.

They have come in handy when we study living things (plants) in Science. I always get them out for Spring. Our classroom is full of flowers in Spring.

Here are some of the ways I have used these Number Flowers in my classroom:

As number provocations in our Investigation Areas
  • In sensory tubs with sand, dirt, gravel or rice and a few empty plant pots, some gardening gloves and a couple of gardening trowels.
  • As a stimulus at the play dough table with either plant pots or cups so they can squash the play dough into the cup and plant their flowers.
  • With flower pots in the Dramatic Play space or just in a large vase for rearranging.
  • In a plant pot or vase as a display at the Science Nature table.
  • With counters and a number line at the Math table.
  • With some tins and cups at the Blocks area.
As a game, math warm-up or transition activity—give each child a flower
  • (numerals & words) and ask them to find their matching flower friend.
  • Or find a flower friend one more than you (or one less, before you or after you on the number line).
  • Ask them to put themselves in order (make a number line).
  • Put a large vase (or small bucket) at the front of the room and count forwards, backwards or skip count together. When a child’s flower is said, they put their flower in the bucket.
  • Sit in a circle and give clues to the secret flower eg: I’m the number before 7. The correct flower child stands up.
  • Make 2 sitting lines down each side of the carpet area. Give the children in one line numeral flowers and the other line number word flowers. The lines face each other and the teacher either says a number or a number clue. The children with the correct flower stand up and run across the middle carpet space to swap places. We call this game, Cross the River.

The .pdf file contains 42 number flowers in a variety of colours. They have been made using Queensland Beginner’s Font. Both numerals and words for numbers 0 to 20 are included. They have been designed to be printed on A4 paper or card. There are 6 flowers to each page. If you wanted them to be a smaller size, you could tile the printing to have 12 flowers to a page.

Sensory Play and Phonics - Green Goop for learning the letter Gg

Green Goop for the letter Gg

Sensory play is so important and incorporated into my curriculum every chance I get. This green goop was so much fun. Just add one cup of green coloured water to 3 cups of cornflour and mix. I coloured the water with a few drops of food colouring. What better way to reinforce the /g/ sound.

Kitchen Science Chemistry Lab from My Teaching Cupboard.

Kitchen Science Chemistry Lab

As part of our investigations into matter and what things are made of, I set up a little Science lab.

I included ingredients from the pantry for the children to measure, mix and observe. Each week I add new ingredients to sustain interest and provoke new investigations. When our letter focus was “Dd”, I added detergent and for “Mm”, I added milk.

There are clipboards and pencils for the little scientists to record their potions and their observations. I included safety glasses and glass test tubes for authenticity.
We have had some wonderful experimenting and hypothesizing. The children have discovered how to make some very impressive concoctions and have shared their knowledge eagerly with their friends. This investigation area has been very popular and so much fun.
Light and Shadow Provocation

Exploring Shadows

We have been learning about the sun this week. The children have been fascinated to explore and investigate this topic. They particularly enjoyed tracing their shadows with chalk on the concrete at various times throughout the day and were so excited to track the sun and measure the growth of their shadows later in the day.

I added an overhead projector to the construction area. I made the screen by draping a large white sheet over some boxes. They investigated the shadows made by their constructions and experimented with different coloured backdrops by using cellophane on the stage glass of the projector. It was exciting to observe them adding objects to the stage glass, carefully placing animals and blocks to compliment their constructions.

The next day I supplied some overhead projector transparency film and Sharpies. The children created hand drawn backdrops. This has been a very stimulating provocation. I will definitely be adding more light play to our classroom in the future.