My kids love to play with playdough, and it’s a weekly request from both my 5-year-old and 2-year-old! They love cutting, kneading, and smashing playdough into different shapes and sizes with their hands and tools! Since my kids are learning 3 languages, I try to include literacy exposure whenever possible. Therefore, I have been making cute toothpick flags with words as reading practice for my 5-year-old and print awareness for my 2-year-old.
Since Chinese is the minority language that we communicate in, our activities generally include Chinese learning. In a way, all Chinese characters are sight words since there is no alphabet, and frequent review is necessary to remember the characters. Therefore, these “sight word” toothpick flags were a fun and easy way show my kids Chinese characters! I have been including them in our playdough small world trays for creative sensory exploration! Let’s take a closer at what we have done!
What you need for Playdough Small World Trays with Sight Word Toothpick Flags
- Playdough (homemade recipe in this post)
- Playdough or kitchen tools (eg, shape cutters)
- Loose parts for open-ended creativity. For example, in the first tray below, I added branches that my kids collected and painted white as well as glass stones. In the second tray, I added Montessori beads and painted avocado seeds!
- Double-sided tape or glue stick
- Divided tray
How to make toothpick flags
- Fold a piece of paper in half
- Starting from the crease, draw a triangle or rectangle (depending on desired flag shape)
- Cut the folded paper along lines
- Final result will be either a diamond or long rectangle
- Fold diamond or rectangle in half around toothpick
- Secure with double-sided tape or glue
This type of play should be child-led and open-ended, so don’t feel like you need to prep much other than the flags. I recommend mixing words that your child already knows how to read with a couple of new ones. This way, he or she feels confident when reading familiar words and is not overwhelmed by the new letters or characters! The words that I choose are related to the contents of the small world tray.
While they are playing, you can casually set up the flags near the objects that you would like to reinforce reading. Try not to interrupt them as they may not be receptive to your ideas. However, when you see an opportunity to chime in, seize the moment to point out the words on the toothpick flags in a fun, playful way! For example, I wanted to teach my daughter 哈士奇 (hàshiqí / husky), and she wanted me to engage in pretended play with her. Thus, I took the husky animal and pretended that the animal was looking at the toothpick flag and excited to find it’s name!
Older kids can make their own toothpick flags! Alternatively, you can leave a few blank so that they can write their own words on the toothpick flags! This is a fun way to squeeze in writing practice. 🙂
Winter Playdough Tray with Montessori Beads
Here’s another winter playdough small world tray that the kids enjoyed! I wanted to teach my 2-year-old son numbers one and two, and I think the concept finally clicked after her heard me comparing one and two so often! I don’t think he recognizes these characters yet, but I’m not concerned as my goal is just exposure at this point.
Fun fact: Montessori beads for numbers one and two are Christmas colors, red and green! The toothpick flags say 一 and 二 (yī’ and èr / one and two) in Chinese, and the paper color I chose matches the beads!
It’s hilarious seeing what kids come up with on their own. My daughter was excited to see the set up and really wanted to make a face from the big ball of playdough….
Voila! She says this is Minnie Mouse!
I’ll end this post with a peek at counting with the painted avocado seeds!
Tips for a successful playdough small world tray
- Keep it simple! You don’t need a ton of different options in the tray. Just a few different materials and textures should be enough for little hands to explore. I believe that less is more: kids will have to think of more ways to use the resources presented to them!
- Follow a theme! Since it’s winter, I picked objects related to this season. But you can choose items that fit something your child is interested or sight words that your child is trying to learn!
More playdough activities for kids
- Playdough Snowman: Counting & Math Activity for Winter!
- Playdough Mooncakes – Mid-Autumn Festival Activity with Recipe!
Other articles about winter and Christmas
- More Christmas learning fun can be found in this link!
- Check out our round-up over 25+ Winter & Christmas Picture Books for Kids in Chinese and English!
- Holiday gift guides: