First Day of School Activities (and Why Teachers Need Play Dough)

The first day of school has all the makings to be chaotic. Parents want to hold conferences as they drop their child off. Kids are not aware of your expectations. They definitely don’t know the procedures and routines, yet. There’s also the arrival of the child who just moved into district and registered that morning. 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 some first day of school activities planned that will occupy them all while you put out fires and prepare to take charge for the next 180 days. The best part is all you need is play dough!

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 really is the best way to start the first day of school!

How to Use Play Dough on the First Day of School

Below are ideas for how to use play dough for first day of school activities with your elementary students.

1. Download the Play Dough Packet

This play dough packet is available in my Clutter-Free Classroom Teachers Pay Teachers store. It includes printable play dough recipe directions and play dough volunteer sign up sheets to send home to students’ families, fun play dough activities, and tons of tips and ideas for teachers. I put out packets with the recipe, sign up sheet, and a letter asking for volunteers to make play dough for the class on back to school night. It’s a great volunteer opportunity for working parents that still want to help the classroom in some way. I make the first batch that I use on the first day of school, but employ the help of parent volunteers the remainder of the school year.

2. Make or Purchase Play Dough

You can either make your own play dough using the recipe listed below or simply purchase small jars of play dough from places like Amazon or Walmart. In my classroom, we tend to use a lot of play dough so I typically opt to make it myself (and have parent volunteers make it). It’s a lot cheaper and pretty easy! You can find a printable version of the recipe below, as well as a colorful version, in my play dough 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.

3. Divide the Play Dough and Put It into Individual-Sized Baggies

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.

If you opt to buy individual containers of play dough, you can skip this step!

4. Put a Baggie or Jar of Play Dough at Each Student’s Seat

Place a baggie or small container of play dough at each of your student’s seat. As students arrive, direct them to their spot.

5. Give Students Time to Play Independently

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.

6. Lead Simple and Fun Activities Involving Play Dough

After all of the school supplies are collected, attendance and lunch count are taken, and students have had time to play, I provide some direction. I ask them to create things like…

  • 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.

This play dough packet includes some fun and engaging activities that will get students writing about and drawing their play dough creations.

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.

7. Collect the Play Dough

After doing some fun first day of school activities with the play dough, collect the play dough so you can use it tomorrow without some of them going missing. I put the same bags out on the next day, but typically start our regular routine on the 3rd day. The activities in this play dough packet are great for the second day of school.

5 Ways to Use Play Dough in School

I like to keep a batch of play dough in the classroom throughout the year. Below are 5 great ways to use it!

1. First Day of School Activity

In the section above, I shared how I use play dough for first day of school activities. It’s a great way to help students transition back to being in a classroom after having the whole summer off.

2. Indoor Recess

Students love playing with play dough during free play time like indoor recess.

3. Math Centers

Play dough is a great math manipulative for students to use during guided math workshop. Students can use it when they are working on measurements, creating 3D solids, and solving word problems.

4. Word Study Centers

I also use it as a special treat during word study centers. Students can use it with letter cookie cutters and stamps. It makes any activity more engaging and fun!

5. Student Gift

Play dough is a great birthday gift for students! You can also send it home with students as a Christmas gift, Valentine’s Day gift, or end of the year gift. It’s sure to be a big hit!

In closing, we hope you found this post about first day of school activities using play dough helpful! If you did, then you may also be interested in these posts:

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Grab this freebie and engage your students in a fun seasonal activity. It’s a great way to practice opinion writing.