Ditch the Worksheets and Have Some Hands- On Fun!

3:00 AM

Research has proven time and again that hands- on learning leads to more critical thinking, better problem solving, increased information retention, and more authentic understanding. We’ve known this for years and yet some teachers still prefer outdated rote learning techniques, drilling students with piles of worksheets each day. 

There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with this approach, but there are so many other ways to help children learn! One thing that isn’t mentioned as much in all the research about hands- on learning…it’s FUN! Kids love it, it’s motivating, and it makes students want to learn more. Plus, it's a great approach for students with unique sensory needs. So let’s ditch the worksheets and gets kids actively engaged in more multi-sensory learning!

I’m going to show you one way to practice letters, numbers, and sight words with a fun totally “hands-on” material: Play dough! Yup, your students are going to love it and they’ll want to practice all day. Play dough is always a hit with kids and is a wonderful kinesthetic activity to use with young learners. Today I’m sharing my favorite play dough recipe and a few activities I’ve used it with. 

I’ve tried out tons of recipes for homemade recipes over the years and this one is by far my favorite.  Although it does require cooking on a stovetop, it’s super easy (no really, it is). It lasts for a very long time and only takes about 5 minutes to make.  It's a great sensory and fine motor activity...but most importantly, kids love it!



1 Cup Flour
1/2 Cup Salt

2 Tablespoons Cream of Tartar

1 Tablespoon Oil

1 Cup Water

Food Coloring


Mix flour, salt, cream of tartar and oil in a pan.  Add water and mix well. Cook over medium heat stirring for several minutes or until the dough begins to clump.  Remove from stove and let it cool down.  Once cool, add the dough to a Ziploc bag with food coloring and knead through to distribute the color.

I like to make several batches at once.  I put each batch in a separate Ziploc bag with a few drops of food coloring. The kids love squeezing and squishing the color throughout the dough in the bag (all the fun without the mess or stained hands). 

If you’re feeling adventurous, try adding vanilla extract, cinnamon, Kool-Aid, Jell-O mix, or a drop of essential oil to your dough to add some scent to your play dough.  This is a sensory activity, after all. Fair warning though: If it smells yummy, they might want to know out if it TASTES yummy too (and from what I’ve been told, it doesn’t).

This play dough stays fresh for an amazingly long time stored in a Ziploc bag or sealed storage container.  I’ve never thrown out batch because it dried out or went bad, but I always make a new one when it starts looking gross (after being dropped on the floor a few times, ew. Trust me, it will get gross).  I like to give each student their own bag of play dough to avoid sharing germ. My teaching assistants called me a germaphobe, but hey, I think that’s just good practice, especially during cold season. 

Last week, I made this play dough with my own boys at home and let them try out some of the resources from my TpT store, Exceptional Thinkers. My 3-year-old hates getting his hands dirty so squishing the food coloring in the bag was perfect for him. My 6-year-old would bathe in slime if I let him, so no sensory aversions there. 

Once the play dough was ready, we practiced rolling out long “snakes.” Then we made different shapes with our dough snakes: S’s, circles, X’s, etc.

Once the boys got the hang of manipulating the dough into shapes, I introduced the Play Dough Mats to them (available HERE). Instead of laminating tons of Play Dough mats, I created a binder for each child and slipped the mats into sheet protectors. The 3-year-old practiced making letters and numbers, while the 6-year-old worked on sight words. They loved it! They practiced their letters, numbers and sight words for over an hour! The 3-year-old even tried the Sight Word Mats while the 6-year-old helped him to read the words. 

Now isn’t that better than worksheets?

I have several different PlayDough Mat sets available at my Exceptional Thinkers store. All of the sets can be purchased separately or as a Bundle at a discount price HERE.

My goal with this post was to give readers one technique that would hopefully inspire them to try out a more multi-sensory approach in the classroom. I know it can seem daunting at first, but once you set your routine with your students, those hands- on activities start to go on autopilot. There is life after worksheets and your students will love it!

Visit my blog at https://teachingexceptionalthinkers.com/ for more fun teaching ideas!

Follow Exceptional Thinkers on TPT for freebies, discounts, and new products! 

by Christy from Exceptional Thinkers

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