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hands-on math

Hands-On Math Activities Using Playdough

Trying to home-school my kids during this Covid-19 lock-down has been hard, especially as they are four years apart. It may not seem like it, but the activities that a preschooler likes are a lot different than a third-grader! I needed a way to teach two levels of math in the same classroom – that is, my living room. Math is a very conceptual concept, so I wanted a fun way to teach them using hands-on math using playdough!

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Kids learn through a variety of methods, but the best ones are those that stimulate their senses. Standard education focuses on auditory and visual learning, but tactile learning actually enhances their education. Kids learn best doing: seeing, and hearing for sure, but also feeling, smelling, and maybe sometimes tasting. This activity stimulates all the senses….though, I would try to discourage licking the dough.

Little lady helped me in the kitchen. Both my kids have interest in cooking, but today it was Warrior’s turn with the mixing spoon.

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Tactile Learning Begins

The first thing I needed to do was to whip up some Kool-Aid Playdough. I’m a baking and bulk foods addict so I had the flour, Kool-Aid packages and cream of tartar in my pantry. This was a fun way to play, because it used kinetic skills along with measuring skills for both creating the dough and using it. Plus getting hands-on experience kneading warm dough is the best.

The next morning, I grabbed our supplies and cobbled two batches of dough within half an hour. My kids picked grape and blue raspberry flavoured gelatin for our upcoming playdough activities.

Kool-Aid Playdough Recipe

  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1/4 cup of salt
  • 2 Tbsp cream of tartar
  • 1 Tbsp of oil
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Kool-Aid unsweetened drink mix pack

Over low heat, stir all ingredients into a pot and mix until it comes together in a sticky mass. You know it’s ready when the sides start pulling off. Dump it out on the counter and let it cool. It will still be tacky. Once it has cooled enough to handle, knead the dough for a few minutes until it becomes a smooth ball. Oh My Gosh, they smelled so delicious!

Playdough Activities To Conceptualize Math

Once the dough was mixed and cooled, I brought out the tools.

For the preschooler, we used various cookie cutter shapes to create tall towers. She got right in there: kneading and rolling and pressing out were great for fine motor control – hands-on math right here, folks! – while her experimentation with stacking them was a mini physics lesson. She tried different shapes, and then different sizes, learning which ones topped over easiest (small ones don’t work on the bottom), and which held up best.

My 3rd grade son had other tasks – a simple fraction lesson using measuring spoons. Using playdough for this activity was key. We used the different sizes of spoons to help visualize multiplication tasks. This was a hard lesson as this concept is difficult to grasp, so the actual physical representation of a conceptual idea was key. One round tablespoon equals three teaspoons worth doesn’t make sense until you mush all three smaller balls into a ball that is the same size as the tablespoon one.

It’s still tricky to grasp, and he has a way to go before he really masters his understanding, but it kept his attention and his focus enough to get the rudimentary concepts down. I’m certainly going to look for more playdough activities to do in the future to keep his attention.

Overall, a half an hour prep time for a lesson that engaged both of them for an hour is what I call a homeschooling win. Let’s see if I can keep this momentum up!

What things have you been teaching your child during this enforced home time? I’d love to hear.

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