This has been one of Finn’s favourite activities for four years now. He used to spend hours making dinosaur and farm animal footprints in play dough. He was happy playing and it was a great opportunity to use comparison words, to discuss shape and to count. Now he’s a bit older, we have turned it in to a game.


  • Play dough
  • Dinosaurs (we’ve done this with farm animals and other small world toys)


First of all Finn rolled out blobs of play dough. He always enjoys some vigorous rolling, flattening out all the bumps to make them smooth.

Then we took it in turns. One of us left the room, while the other made dinosaur tracks in the play dough. The person outside had to come back in and identify which dinosaur made which footprints. Finn went outside first.

When he came back in, “Now who has the biggest feet?” Finn was able to spot that it would be Rex easily. He tried to put Rex’s left foot in the right footprint and it didn’t match. When I said, “Try them the other way round…” he faced Rex in the other direction. It reminds me that I need to be clear with my directions.

“Next I’m going to look for the smallest dinosaur.” This activity is brilliant for comparison words: tall/short, long/short, big/small, fat/thin, thin/thick, heavy/light, wide/narrow.

Finn had decided to look for the footprints with three toes. I was cruel and had included lots of similar looking footprints to make the game more difficult. He started off by separating the dinosaurs with 3 toes, from the dinosaurs with more than three toes.

He thought he knew which dinosaur had made the footprints, but found that, “His legs are the wrong way round.” By that he meant that the right hand footprint was at the front, whereas the dinosaur had it’s left leg at the front.

Again, unprompted, he grouped the three-toed dinosaurs. This time he classified them as the ones with their left leg in front and the ones with their right leg in front. He used a process of elimination to get rid of all the ones with ‘legs the wrong way round’.

He found the next T-Rex footprints easier to match as his feet were bigger than the others and his toes were more spread out.

“This one’s a circle, it’s got 1,2,3,4,5 toes.” When Finn was younger we used to do lots of counting, from the number of toes on the dinosaurs, to the number of feet on the farm animals. When he was ready for bigger numbers, we’d count the total number of footprints. Rolled out pastry works well for having a large surface area to work with.

More comparison: “This dinosaur has bigger feet at the back than the front…”

Finn used his problem solving skills to solve the mystery in the blue play dough. He noticed that not all the footprints were evenly pressed down, he used that information to work out which dinosaur it must be.

Once Finn had matched all the dinosaurs to the footprints, he enjoyed re-rolling the play dough then sending me out of the room while he made a new set of foot prints for me to solve. The next pictures aren’t the best as Finn insisted I took them with my eyes shut so I didn’t spoil the surprise.

DfES Early Learning Goals (2017)

Physical Development

ELG 04 – Moving and handling:

Children show good control and co-ordination in large and small movements. They handle equipment and tools effectively.


ELG 11 – Numbers:

Children count reliably with numbers from 1 to 20, place them in order and say which number is one more or one less than a given number.


ELG12 – Shape, space and measures:

Children explore characteristics of everyday objects and shapes and use mathematical language to describe them.

DfES Early Years Outcomes (2013)


Shape, Space and Measures (30-50 months)

  • Shows awareness of similarities of shapes in the environment.
  • Uses positional language.
  • Beginning to talk about the shapes of everyday objects, e.g. ’round’ and ‘tall’.

Shape, Space and Measures (40-60+ months)

  • Beginning to use mathematical names for ‘solid’ 3D shapes and ‘flat’ 2-D shapes, and mathematical terms to describe shapes.
  • Selects a particular named shape.
  • Can describe their relative position such as ‘behind’ or ‘next to’.