Why Teachers Need Play Dough on the First Day of School

I know the primary teachers out there will embrace this idea, but some of you intermediate folks may need a wee bit of convincing. So I’m here to convince you! I teach 3rd and for the past few years I’ve kicked off the first day of school with some play dough fun! What? Play dough in 3rd grade? Yep (and your 4th and 5th graders will love it too)! It’s a great way to start the first day of school at any elementary grade level. Read below to learn why you need to add play dough to your back to school shopping list!

Why You Need Play Dough on the First Day of School

The first day of school has all the makings to be chaotic (parents that want to hold conferences as they drop their child off, kids not aware of your expectations, procedures and routines, the arrival of the child who just moved into district and registered that morning, etc.). Even without the unexpected, there will be excitement of friends reuniting and an entire class of children wanting to thrust school supplies in your face.

So you are going to want to have something planned that will occupy them all while you put out fires and prepare to take charge for the next 180 days.

  • Having a small baggy of play dough at each child’s seat will give them something to do at a time when they don’t have a clue what to do in their new room.
  • Unlike a paper and pencil task, which may create anxiety in some students, ALL children can use play dough without assistance.
  • If a student is feeling nervous about the new year, the play dough is calming.
  • If you have friends who tend to wiggle, the play dough gives them an outlet.
  • Also, at a time when they aren’t sure what to expect, it sends a message that “this place is going to be fun!”

Play Dough Activities for the First Day of School

I usually give them some time to just knead, play, and create as they wish while I get their classroom supplies out of the way. Then I provide some direction. I ask them to create…

  • their first initial
  • something that represents their favorite thing to do
  • their favorite animal

After each creation, we take a minute to share.

Sometimes they share with a neighbor and sometimes I ask for volunteers to share with the class.

It doesn’t need to take too long, but it’s a great ice breaker and by the time I collect the bags (labeled with each student’s name and number), we’re ready to launch into the new year as a class.

I put the same bags out on the next day as well, but typically start our regular routine on the 3rd day.

I do like to keep a batch of play dough in the classroom throughout the year. The kids love using it for indoor recess and it makes great stations during math workshop (measurements, creating 3D solids, solving word problems). I also use it at time as a special treat during word study centers (with letter cookie cutters and stamps).

While I do make the first batch and put it into snack size baggies for each student before the first day of school, I ask that parents make it after that. This play dough packet includes the recipe and letter that I send home along with the sign-up sheet I put out at Back-to-School Night.  It’s a great volunteer opportunity for working parents that still want to help the classroom in some way.

I’ve put together a Play Dough in the Classroom Packet that includes a recipe, sign-up sheet, and note to send home with volunteers.

The Best Play Dough Recipe for Teachers

{click here to access and print the Play Dough in the Classroom packet}

I recently received lots of emails about the quantity I made and how much the recipe yields.

So I whipped up a batch for you all to see.

My kids were thrilled. In fact, I was rocking my “Seasonal Stay-at-Home Mom” gig that day. I made homemade play dough with them, we had a picnic lunch and fed the ducks, we went to the library (complete with a canvas book tote because I think that is a mandatory SAHM prop), baked cookies, and made puppets.

Of course I then fed them pizza for dinner in front of the TV.

… and I’m pretty sure that was their favorite part of the day.

Anyhow, back to the play dough.

Here is what one batch looks like next to some familiar objects to give you an idea of it’s size.

I then cut it into 8 equal pieces and bag it up. The recipe I shared doubles perfectly. When I’m making it for the first day I usually make two DOUBLE batches which gives me 24 bags plus some for the kiddies at home to play with. It’s the perfect size for the students to use on the first couple days.

When I have parents make it throughout the year some make one batch and some double it. Since it is for a small center it’s a good amount.

I buy the snack size baggies at the Dollar Tree, but if you have access to someone who uses baby food then those little plastic containers (not the glass ones) are perfect too.

Back to School Activities for Elementary Teachers

Here are a few of the other things I do during that first week of school:

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