How to Use Play Dough to Get Your Toddler to Talk

Play dough, speech therapy, toddler language

Play dough, speech therapy, toddler language

I use play dough almost every day of the week. It is one of the best tools to use to get your toddler to talk.

I have written a specific play routine in My Toddler Talks: Strategies and Activities to Promote Your Child's Language Development about how to use play dough to encourage language development.

If you’re looking for specific, step-by-step suggestions to use play dough to properly model and elicit language from a toddler, I highly recommend following the play routine written in my book.

Play routine with play dough

Play routine with play dough

In this post, I’m going to delve deeper on how I use play dough to encourage specific words that can further propel your toddler’s language.  This post may be of particular interest to you, if you are motivated to get your toddler to combine words together.

Several posts back, I created a list of commonly spoken first words.  These commonly spoken first words include, nouns, adjectives, social words, pronouns, prepositions, and verbs. In case you missed it, here is the list of commonly spoken first words. Click the image below to download a copy.

Common First Words

Common First Words

Verbs are crucial to language development – particularly the development of grammar.

For the purposes of toddler language, I am limiting the meaning of verb to only describe an action.

Playing with play dough provides wonderful tactile opportunities for children to say a variety of words related to the actions they are performing. In my book, My Toddler’s First Words, I write extensively about the importance of verbs in driving language development and grammar.

Since play dough is soft and malleable, it can be poked and proded and squeezed and stretched, and cut and rolled – just to name a few.

Therefore, playing with play dough gives us MANY opportunities to target verbs!

Verbs drive the sentence, making it easier to combine words together.

prints, play dough, toddler talk

prints, play dough, toddler talk

Therefore, when you and your child are playing with play dough, talk about the actions both YOU and YOUR CHILD are doing! When you are talking about these actions, ensure you have your child’s attention and eye contact.

Poking Play Dough

Poking Play Dough

Here’s an example:

Target Word: Mashing (or Smashing)

Play Dough, speech therapy, toddlers

Play Dough, speech therapy, toddlers

If your child is taking the play dough and mashing it into the table – say:

“You’re mashing the play dough!”

Emphasize the word mashing by changing your voice.

Take it a step further by following your child’s lead, and mash the play dough too.

I would even encourage you to say:

“Now, I’m mashing the play dough.”

Most young children LOVE when adults appreciate and follow their lead.

I know I have mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating – Make sure your child is looking at what you are doing when you say the word “mashing”. Your child’s ability to attend and look at what you are doing is very important to language development.

Once your child has become familiar with this play routine and the verbiage that goes with it, expand your child’s play.


There are so many ways you can expand your child’s play and language.

You can:

  1. Add in another word like, “smashing” – Therefore, say “I’m smashing and mashing the playdough.” There are now 2 instances of –ing verbs that rhyme making it not only fun to do BUT fun to say! Encourage your child to do the action too. Say, “Mary, you try smashing and mashing the play dough.”

  2. Add a step in complexity – PRETEND PLAY – pretend to make mashed potatoes! If you’ve been using your hands, pick up the potato masher from your kitchen and mash it into the play dough! Say, “I’m mashing potatoes!”

  3. Change the action and change the verb! Once your child tires of smashing and mashing or mashing and smashing, then change the action! Here are just a few more actions to do: Cutting, squeezing, pushing, pulling, rolling, hiding, and making prints.

  4. If your child is now saying the action associated with what he or she is doing (e.g. squeeze (or squeezing), smash (or smashing), roll (or rolling), etc. it will be easier for him or her to combine that action with an object or combine that action with a subject. For instance:

    • Action + Object ( e.g. "Squeeze play dough" or "squeeze dough" or "squeezing dough" or squeezing play dough".

    • Subject + Action (e.g. "I squeeze", "You squeeze", "Mommy squeeze", "Daddy squeeze", "Aiden squeeze".

Don't feel pressured to buy a fancy or elaborate toy to manipulate the play dough. Keep it simple by focusing on the actions you and your toddler can do while playing with it!

As always, I hope this post was helpful!!

Stay tuned – I have a new book coming out this Fall! Subscribe to my newsletter for updates on its release.

*If your child is constantly putting things in his or her mouth then it’s probably not wise to introduce your child to play dough yet