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How to Set Up a Playdough Play Tray

by Andrea Martelle
February 28, 2024
small world playdough play

Playdough play is a childhood basic. Add figurines to take the playdough play to a whole new level of small world creative play for kids.

Updated January 2024

We love playdough. And while we use it for building, creating, and sensory play, we most often use it for pretend play.

Whenever we get the playdough out, the dinosaurs, Paw Patrol pups, and various other little figures end up coming out, too. My kids can’t resist using the playdough to create lots of little worlds for their critters.

This open-ended play ends up being more independent and lasting longer than when my kids use playdough in other ways. Once the materials are out, I often sit back and watch as little worlds are created and stories are acted out, and my kids are completely absorbed in their play.

playdough play tray pin
Photo by Rachel Withers

Small World Playdough Play


Time needed: 5 minutes


  1. Set out tray

    Find a tray or cookie sheet that your child can use. If you don’t have one on hand, try a small Tupperware bin instead. Containing the space your child uses helps to contain the creative space and makes for an easy clean up.

    small world playdough play materials

  2. Add toys or materials

    Because this so often is what my kids prefer to do with playdough, I’ve started keeping a variety of materials perfect for creating small worlds together in a big Tupperware container.

    This makes the set up super easy to do. The materials aren’t fancy and are frequently added to as we go. (See the suggested list above.)

    If you have an old hors d’oeuvres tray, these are great for sorting materials by category. You can also set out little bowls or containers with the play materials.

    pretend playdough play

  3. Play!

    Sit back and watch the magic happen! You might use this as an invitation to play set up for after school winding down or for your kids first thing in the morning.

    My kids like to use the playdough as a base for the figurines to stand in, as hills, volcanoes, and other landforms, as houses, and much more.

    pressing whale into playdough

Playdough is seamlessly incorporated into their small world play, adding a new and different level of creative play to the entire experience, each time they play.

Creative Playdough Play for Kids

If your kids aren’t into little figures, we also do our fair share of playdough baking and pretending that we are the next Food Network star.

All you need to create your own playdough bakery is:

Take turns making each other pretend treats or let your kids set up a kitchen or cupcake store and start taking orders!

playdough cupcakes
Photo by Andrea Martelle

We love to use our favorite homemade playdough recipe, but you can use any playdough, homemade or store bought, of course.

Do your kids incorporate figures and little toys into their playdough play? If not, you might want to try setting out some animal and people figurines, matchbox cars, and other little odds and ends with some playdough and a few open-ended add-ins (beads, buttons, large sequins, and toothpicks) and see what they come up with.

dino in dough
Photo by Andrea Martelle

More Ideas for Playdough

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How to Set Up a Playdough Play TrayHow to Set Up a Playdough Play Tray

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