Playdough is great. It feels so good to kids because it stretches and strengthens their wrists, their hands, their fingers. But you know what's better? Real dough.
First of all, dough is delightfully smellable. And, boy, does it smell wonderful, like something you would like to taste. So you do. Yummy! It's fresh and edible. The texture is dry and soft to the fingers and delightfully slimy to the mouth. It is infinitely moldable. When baked, the properties change dramatically, and the child uses all of his or her senses in observing this transformation.
Repetition, Repetition, Repetition...
It's not just about playing with the dough, either. The making is just as important...and fun! One of the keys to Montessori philosophy is understanding the child's need for repetition.
Repetition is satisfying. It allows the child to hone the skills learned in the very first lesson with the work. Montessori believed that children have an inner guide that propels them toward repeating the actions that will lead to new developmental capabilities.
The Perfect Dough
This is partly why cooking, which naturally invites repetition, is excellent for kids. And simple yeasted dough is the perfect project.
Making the Dough
4 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tsp yeast
1/4 cup olive oil
1 3/4 cups water
Mix the flour, salt and yeast together. Add the oil and water. Knead (by hand or in a mixer with a dough hook) until you have that perfect, classic, springy bread dough texture. In general, if you can pinch the dough between your fingers and it stays in that shape (like playdough), you've got it.
Baking and storing
You can eat the dough unbaked (many kids love to), or you can bake it into loaves, fun shapes or a pizza. Plop the dough lump onto a well floured cutting board and cut into shapes. Bake at 350 degrees or until it's crispy to your liking.
If you want to store the dough for later, cut it into fourths. Pat each with a little olive oil on your fingers then stick them into plastic baggies. Store them in a fridge. They will last a few days.
Make It a Habit
If you want kids to get comfortable working with dough - rolling, kneading, and using cookie cutters to make fun shapes - you can't put a lump of dough in front of the kiddos and expect magic. You have to model it yourself many times.
And remember, acting is essential to good, enticing teachings. Snicker mischievously when you roll out some snakes and make the first letter of your kids' names. Take a bite out of the pizza with gusto, and even if you think the kids' Frankenpizza monster is disgusting, keep a smile on your face and spit it into the trash when they aren't looking.
If you act like dough is fun, your kids will think it is!