7 Easy Ways to Teach Chinese and Korean with Play Dough (VIDEO)

Chinese Korean play dough literacy activity

Since we’re raising trilingual children, we try to make the minority languages extra fun at home. Play dough is one of our must-have resources for teaching Chinese and Korean!  Play dough is easy and inexpensive to make, and there are so many ways to teach Korean and Chinese with play dough.

Because life has been extra busy, I’m so thankful for a large batch of homemade play dough in my fridge! Play dough has so many learning benefits, and I’ll share our favorite play dough tips and tools.

No matter what language your family speaks, I hope the literacy ideas can be helpful! If you’re more of a visual learner, I’ve included a video at the end of the post.

Making Chinese characters with play dough
Sister showing brother how to make Chinese characters with play dough

Learning to love playdough

Honestly, I used to hate play dough and would have my husband take over when my children wanted to play with it.  The famous Play Doh brand makes me nauseous!!! However, homemade play dough has been a game changer.  It’s soft and calming.

More importantly, my 5.5-year-old daughter and 2.5-year-old son both love play dough and don’t even realize they are learning while playing!

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Play dough: A fun way to encourage the minority language at home

I’m always looking for activities that encourage my kids to speak their minority languages, Chinese and Korean.

Since I’m learning Chinese with my children, engaging hands-on activities also help me remember new Chinese characters.

However, I can’t speak or read Korean. My children are learning Korean from their nanny but often aren’t motivated to use it when she’s not around.

Therefore, I try to show them that mommy cares about this part of their heritage by preparing simple play-based activities.

Writing Chinese characters flower and grass with play dough
花 (Huā / flower) and 草 (cǎo / grass) created with play dough; cutting play dough grass!

Teach Chinese and Korean with Play dough: Benefits for children

In addition to language and literacy, play dough encourages well-rounded and interactive learning.

Fine Motor Skills

Through squishing, pulling, twisting, kneading, rolling, hammering, and cutting, play dough helps young hands develop hand strength, control, and dexterity.

Scissor practice with playdough


Play dough is a versatile material that can be used for structured learning as well as imaginative, child-led play! The material can be molded into anything you and your child(ren) can dream of!

Science and Math

Creating homemade play dough with children is already the start of a free math and science lesson! In the kitchen, you can involve your child with measuring, scooping, pouring, and stirring the ingredients. During play, trial and error is encouraged by creating shapes, comparing sizes, and using various tools!

Try this: How to Teach Kids Basic Math for Free

Hammering playdough with a small wooden mallet
Flattening playdough with toy hammer


Since play dough is calming and open-ended, children can often work with it for long-periods of time.

When your child gets uninterrupted time to focus on play dough, this is a natural way to exercise a child’s concentration. Play dough can be a calming mindfulness activity for kids!

Language and Literacy

The next part of this post will focus on how to use play dough to teach Chinese and Korean!

7 play dough reading games in Korean and Chinese!

Seven ways to teach Chinese and Korean with play dough

Here are 7 super easy play dough activities that encourage Chinese and Korean learning at home! I hope your children enjoy these activities as much as mine!

Teach Korean and Chinese with playdough: letter formation

Parents and older children can create Chinese characters and Korean letters by manipulating play dough! Letter formation helps children remember individual strokes that make up a character or letter.

Here, my daughter formed the word 花 (Huā / flower) while paying attention to stroke proportion and positioning.

How to Teach Chinese with Play dough

Although we are teaching my son the Korean Hangul alphabet through Montessori colors (red = consonants, blue = vowels), my daughter wanted to set up a rainbow colored activity!

She loves to play teacher and wanted her brother to learn the Korean alphabet through her colorful lesson.  However, she couldn’t resist chopping up some of the Hangul letters herself!

Cutting colorful playdough Hangul letters
Hangul alphabet made from play dough

My son happily joined later and also mashed some with his chubby toddler hands!

Teach Korean and Chinese with Playdough: Letter stamping

Stamping Chinese characters with play dough

If you have the 磁性拼字拼图 Chinese Characters Magnetic Spelling Puzzle, you can use these pieces to imprint Chinese characters into playdough.

Teach Korean with Playdough - Hangul letter stamping
Korean word 하트 (hateu / heart)

Stamping Korean words with play dough

We have also had fun stamping our foam magnetic Korean alphabet toys in play dough! You can read my review and see more teaching ideas with Hangul letter toys here. The play dough stamping was inspired by an English alphabet activity from Happy Tot Shelf

Teach Korean and Chinese with Play Dough: Tracing letters

After stamping Chinese characters and Korean letters in play dough, you can trace words with loose parts!  Examples include small rocks, buttons, beans, and beads!

Teach Korean and Chinese with Play dough: Letter puzzle

After stamping Korean letters and Chinese characters into play dough, you can also use the indentations as a puzzle! DIY play dough puzzles can be repeated over and over for reading practice!

Chinese characters play dough stamping puzzle

Chinese Character play dough puzzle

I used our Chinese Characters Magnetic Spelling Puzzle to set up a puzzle matching activity for my 2.5-year-old son! My son had a lot of fun feeling the imprints and fitting the Chinese character pieces to the correct location!

DIY Korean letter puzzle with play dough

Teach Korean - Hangul playdough stamping and DIY puzzle

Here’s an example of simple Korean words created with Hangul alphabet toys.  My daughter read each of these Korean words out loud while stamping and putting the puzzle together!

Another idea is to use this Korean Alphabet Wood Tracing Board to form Hangul letters.  When the letters are formed, carefully lift each letter off the wood board.

Then you can invite your child to complete the play dough puzzle!  While searching for the missing letters, practice saying the phonetic sound and replace them onto the board!

Teach Korean with Play Dough - Hangul Korean alphabet wood tracing board

Hide and Find the Missing Letter or Word!

This one is always a favorite for my little guy!  When I hide some of the Chinese characters in large balls of play dough, he has a blast discovering what’s inside! In the photo below, I hid the Chinese word 力 (lì ), which means power, force, and strength.

Play dough hide and find letter or word

If you don’t have Chinese characters or Korean letter toys, you can write secret letters or messages inside the play dough!

Teach Korean and Chinese with Play dough: Letter carving

After rolling your play dough flat with a rolling pin, take a toothpick and etch the word that you want to teach your child! In the image below, I wrote 我 (wǒ / me) in Chinese to show my son this character.

Etching Chinese characters in blue homemade play dough

Older children who are learning to write can also have fun poking and carving messages in play dough! This is a great way to strength pencil grasp muscles, too! Here is my daughter practicing 力 following stroke order.

Writing 力 in play dough with toothpick

Related: How to Make Sight Word Flags Toothpicks and Play Dough!

Video of Chinese playdough learning ideas

Teaching Korean and Chinese with Playdough: Verbal language

While doing the aforementioned play dough literacy activities or simply engaging in open-ended, creative play, talk about the sensorial experience with your child. For example, you can narrate the actions they are taking with the play dough.

Alternatively, if they seem very focused in the play dough, find a moment when you have their attention and ask them about their sensory experience.

Each of these discussions expand vocabulary and serve as opportunities to model correct grammar and improve communication skills!

In the photo below, my 5.5-year-old daughter was telling me about how she created a variety of baked desserts at her pretend bakery!

Creative, hands-on learning with homemade play dough! 6 Easy Ways to Teach Chinese and Korean with Play dough

Here, my 2.5-year-old is doing is favorite thing – poking play dough with tree branches! His toddler descriptions are always adorable and funny!

Playing with homemade blue jello play dough

Our favorite play dough tools!

My children love to use our play dough tools as well as basic kitchen gadgets!

Favorite play dough tools for children

For clean-up, we love our vacuums!  I know a lot of people dread the mess after play dough, but it’s not so bad if the children are playing over a hard surface. To clean up dried-out play dough crumbs, we use our Swiffer or one of the following vacuums:

Easy homemade play dough recipes

A few years ago, my teacher friend had us over and showed me how easy it is to make your own play dough.  The texture was so soft, the scent was calming, and our children were so focused on exploring the homemade play dough!

Basic homemade play dough recipe

This is the recipe that we used for our Play Dough Mooncakes and Mooncake Moon phases activities.

Play dough ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tbsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tbsp veg oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2+ drops food coloring for pastel color; more for darker color

Directions for making play dough

  1. Mix water and food coloring
  2. Mix rest of ingredients in pot
  3. Add colored water to the pot with the other ingredients
  4. Mix thoroughly on low heat until contents solidify; remove from heat
  5. Let cool and knead
  6. Play time!  Wash / dry hands before use so that play dough can last longer.

How to store play dough

  1. Store in airtight container in refrigerator (eg, ziplock bags; Tupperware with tight lid +/- saran wrap)
  2. Play dough should last for several weeks to months depending on usage
6 Easy Ways to Teach Chinese and Korean with Play dough

Jello play dough recipe

For the Korean Hangul activities shown above, we used a Jello Play Dough Recipe as follows (from a website that is no longer active):


  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 tablespoon cream of tartar
  • 1 package of Jello (sugar-free or regular)

How to make Jello Play dough

  1. Mix all the ingredients together and cook over low on the stove.
  2. Stir frequently to break down clumps
  3. Cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring with a spatula
  4. Once the dough starts to gather together and doesn’t stick to your fingers, remove from stove
  5. Let cool and begin kneading

The colors were vibrant, and my children liked the scent!  The only thing I wished I did differently was to half the recipe.  Since we made 5 colors (red, orange, yellow, green, and blue), the yield was a very large amount of play dough!

Naturally dyed play dough

While I haven’t had a chance to make naturally dyed play dough yet, I bookmarked this recipe: How to Make Natural Dyes for Playdough (The Imagination Tree)

Taste safe play dough

If you have babies and young toddlers and are worried about accidental ingestion from play dough, these recipes claim to be taste safe! Although my children are past the mouthing stage, my friends use these recipes with their little ones:

Have you tried any of these play dough literacy activities?

If you teach Chinese or Korean to your children with play dough, please let us know in the comments!  We love seeing how other families have fun learning minority languages at home!

how to make play dough mooncakes
learn moon phases with play dough mooncakes for mid-autumn festival

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  1. Great ideas! Thank you. We had used playdoh to form characters with success and this helped build on it since my 5 year old saw the picture of the flower and grass and wanted to copy it :). Convenient since we have worked on spring vocabulary this month. Of course, after making the green and yellow playdoh especially for this, they really wanted to use a cookie cutter to make stars. But that was fine – they made lots of stars, we learned the word for star together, listened to twinkle twinkle little star, and then they counted all the stars at the end and wrote the number. Best of all this kept our Chinese lesson today fun (and child-led) and at the end my preschooler asked about the flower so we’ll do that next time.

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