Playdough Battleground – Fine Motor Pretend Play

playdough playYou know those moments of parenthood when you say “never” and then a few years later you eat your words. Yeah. I said I’d never let my son play with toy guns and while I still don’t buy the actual toy guns we do allow figurines with guns, pretend play with finger guns etc…  I know not every family allows it and others find there to be nothing wrong with weapon play at all. Like everything on our site use what will interest your child. I preach to follow their interests and find ways to teach using them and right now my son’s biggest interest is history , specifically WWII. This playdough activity isn’t just shooting each other it’s an invitation to play and learn.

  1. Gather your materials. We used plastic soldiers ( ours were specific WWII that came with an American and German flag), playdough we used every package we could find in the house, craft sticks, pompoms ( these were bombs) and your imagination.
  2. I just gave him the supplies and let him go. playdough play
  3. He built bunkers, trenches and special huts. This play is amazing fine motor work both molding the playdough and placing the small figurines.
  4. Later he created prisons for the POWs and I didn’t get a shot of it but we made a hill and water to make a D-Day beach.
  5. While playing we talked about all sorts of things. I do not want to glorify war but instead talk about the sacrifices everyone involved made, talk about why there was a war and how no matter what side the soldiers were on they have families who missed them.  My husband and I have sat down together to decide what we think our son can handle as far as facts about history so when he asks us ” Tell me a story about World War Two.” we know what the other is telling him and not telling him for now.
  6. Don’t forget just to have fun too. I know sometimes I need to remember this . He played for at least 2 hours, stopping briefly only for lunch. More than a few times he told me ” Mommy I love history!” let’s hope he carries that through school!


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  1. says

    My daughter uses the playdough as terrain for dinosaurs or whatever animal is in vogue with her. She used to use playdough as food for her playmobil dinos. I was forever trying to pry their mouths open and get the dried dough out. Glad she is over that. And, I have heard from the (non gun loving) Moms of boys that even though they never gave their sons guns, the kids made guns out of their hands. Maybe a boy thing like some girls are princess girls.

    • admin says

      That was my son – we still aren’t comfortable letting him have a life size toy gun but if he makes one from his imagination we are cool. Something I read ( I think it was in Raising Cain by Dan Kindlon) was that when we tell boys that war play/ weapons play is bad that we are telling them something about them is bad and that play by definition is not violent it’s play . It took some time for me to process all of that but we came to the conclusion that as play we’d allow it.

  2. Katie Davis says

    This is a great post! My 4 1/2 year old son is really into playing with his army guys and adding play dough into the mix is a great idea! Charlie is really curious about battles and the military and war. Do you know of any age appropriate books that offer information about these basic concepts without being scary or introducing ideas that are too complex?


    • admin says

      I am still looking – we liked the American Girl Doll book about Molly for what it was like at home for Americans during WW2 but it left out the internment of Japanese Americans , which is kinda a huge thing to leave out. As far as battles go I haven’t found one yet that I didn’t edit heavily and my son is reading so it’s that much harder to edit on the go when he says ” No it says this….” . There are very limited picture books about the subject because it’s hard to break down.

  3. says

    Hi! This is a very interesting topic for me because my just turned 3yo son is beginning to ask questions about why people fight, why are there wars, etc. I don’t think he knows guns yet, but does ask what swords are for. As a pacifist, I have the hardest time figuring appropriate, truthful answers to these without going down the beaten good guys bad guys route. I usually start by saying it’s for defending themselves (still worrying about the message that sends too) but have a hard time answering the subsequent why. So tough. Totally agree with your stance though! And btw, I never commented before but I always read your blog and love it! Thanks so much for sharing!

    • admin says

      Sandra I am so glad you commented. It was a really hard subject for me because of years of being a teacher / rec leader I could simply say ” No guns” and be done. At home it was so different and after discussing it all with my husband, reading books etc.. it really did seem like it was innate for our son. Although he has since seen some video games ( we don’t even own a video game system) / movies with some tame violence he’d seen zero when he started with the weapon play. At 3.5 he asked me what a gun was and now at 5.5 he can tell you all about the battle of normandy. We take every parenting decision seriously and do everything with intent and our answers won’t be the right ones for everyone , just hopefully more often than not the right ones for our kids.

      I wish you luck as you make these choices, parenting is tough! So happy you like the blog 🙂

  4. Michele says

    I love this idea for my 3 and 10 year(who still leaves army men around for me to step on). My oldest has wanted to be in the military since he was four and so discuss in war, battles and even weapons has always been fascinating to him. Thanks for the idea!

  5. says

    As a high school history teacher and WWII enthusiast, really REALLY appreciate how you have encouraged your son’s interest in history. I hope he has the opportunity to meet (and remember meeting) a WWII vet. Sadly, I don’t think my 15 month old will have the change before they’re gone from us. I too was of the “no guns and weapons” mentality, but my husband is in the army so I think for us the fascination with gun/soldiers will be unavoidable, but also an opportunity to teach my son about war, violence, and history.

    This year my husband and I went to the Reading, PA WWII Air Show. If you get the chance to see something like that and take your son I’m sure he’d love it.


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