By PAULETTE ARCHER
OSCAR Programme Leader YMCA

Looking for a fun activity for younger kids that older kids secretly enjoy too? Why not make some old-school playdough?

Much more than a cheap way of amusing the children, playdough offers heaps of learning opportunities. For preschoolers in particular the act of squishing, rolling, shaping, cutting and splatting playdough is a great way to help develop fine motor skills - the small, controlled hand movements we use for tasks like preparing food, fastening clothing, writing, and using our smartphones. Older children will take this to the next level, using the dough to make detailed models and sculptures which are then gleefully squashed.
By making playdough in different colours (the three primary colours of blue, yellow, and red are a great place to start) you can give your child the chance to explore for themselves what happens when you mix different colours together. Blue and yellow? Green. Yellow and red? Orange. What happens when you mix all three?

Raiding the kitchen cupboards can add even more fun by giving your child a range of tools to manipulate the playdough. Cookie cutters and rolling pins are obvious ideas, but what about a fork to make patterns in the dough? Or a table knife to cut it? How about a plastic bowl to fill with 'dinner'?

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While playdough can be a great way to keep the kids occupied while you're busy with something else, it can be even more worthwhile if you can take the time to play with them. Can they make you a cake? Mmmm, yummy! What about rolling up some little peas for you to eat? With children who have recently started school, shaping letters and numbers out of playdough, or using it to spell out words, can be a great way to support classroom learning. Or try some maths: "We've cut out two cookies. Let's see how many we have if we cut out two more.
"How many are left if we squidge one of them up?"

And what about their older brothers and sisters? They may not want to admit it, but if you leave the playdough where they can see it they'll probably find it hard to resist giving it a bit of a squish ... just for old times' sake!

To make playdough you will need:
■ 2 T cream of tartar
■ half cup salt
■ 1 T cooking oil
■ Food dye
■ 1 cup boiling water
■ 1 cup flour

Put the cream of tartar, salt, cooking oil, and food dye in a bowl. Children can help with this part and choose which colour they want their playdough to be. Add the boiling water and mix thoroughly - this step is not suitable for children! Once the salt has mostly dissolved add the flour and mix it together to make a dough. Wait for it to cool down a bit before giving it to children!

Remember there's a lot of salt in playdough, so while most kids will have a wee nibble it's not a good idea to let them eat it. If you think they might have eaten too much give them plenty of water to drink.