A Week of Playdough

Reggio Playdough Provocation - a week of playdough from An Everyday StoryI’ve been reading Learning Together with Young Children again lately. It’s one of my favourite Reggio-inspired books and although it’s intended for teachers, the suggestions it gives for providing an engaging environment are inspiring and simple to implement.

I was looking for something in particular that I had read; thoughts and strategies for making activities more engaging for children by choosing particular materials and displaying them beautifully and invitingly.

These days, I find myself more and more moving away from traditional toys and looking instead to loose parts and other non-typical materials for Jack (4yrs) and Sarah (23mths). I wanted to learn more about incorporating something like playdough or clay with loose materials.

Reggio Playdough Provocation - using natural and loose materials from An Everyday StoryI found what I was looking for, at the end of the chapter, there was a task. A task to set out a playdough invitation for a few weeks and then observe how the children played with it, making changes to the materials depending on the direction of the children’s play.

I thought I would try it for a week; a week of playdough. I like the neutral tones of uncoloured playdough and also prefer the initial warmth and feel of a freshly cooked batch. I just use the recipe on the back of the Cream of Tartar container. Two balls of playdough, now for the materials.

The book suggested a mat or tray to define the work space. I decided to use some of our A4 acrylic mirrors. Then a separate bowl or tray for each material. Keeping similar materials together helps children to explore the differences between materials more easily. It is also easier for children to see what is available to them when materials aren’t all in the one container.

Loose natural materials from An Everyday StoryThe task suggested finding four different kinds of materials:

Materials for making imprints

    • shells
    • gumnuts
    • seedpods
    • pinecones
    • driftwood

Materials for design

    • sea glass
    • pebbles
    • tiny wood cookies

Materials for construction

    • sticks

Materials for pretend play

    • Australian animal figurines

Jack and Sarah dove into it straight away. Sarah making imprints and Jack creating pretend worlds with the figurines. Sarah soon added more materials, some knitted fabric squares and small felt balls. Jack then added some people to be included in his stories.

A Week of Playdough - Reggio playdough provocation from An Everyday Story Playdough and natural materials from An Everyday StoryI took a few photos and made note of Jack’s stories for the next time they want to play. The playdough is in a small plastic container on top of the mirror so they can get it out by themselves. And all the materials including the ones they added are in their bowls again.

Sarah has returned to the table several times to make more imprints. Jack has returned twice today, once to make some snails using the sea glass as a design for the shell and the other time to make a building with the sticks.

Making imprints in playdough using natural materials from An Everyday StoryI’ve put the photos onto the digital photo frame to see if that encourages more play. We’ll see.

I am liking this task. Two days into it so far, three more to go. I wonder what other materials they will add over the week and how their play will evolve…

26 Replies to “A Week of Playdough”

  1. i love the use of the mirrors underneath. i am going to have to try (again) to purchase some of these. looking forward to hearing how the rest of the ‘play dough’ week goes x

    1. They can be quite expensive when they aren’t on sale, can’t they? I bought them in a 10 pack when they were on a 60% off sale at Educational Experience. Them, and Modern Teaching Aids have random things on big sales. I scan their sites every now and then and sometimes come across some great bargains.

  2. Your materials are always so beautiful, I want to play too 😉 But I also really like how available you make things, and allow them to come in and out of the activity

    1. Well Kelly you’ll have to come play some time and bring the littles 🙂

  3. I love the idea to incorporate natural materials into play.. just brought a bunch of new stones and shells home from the beach today! I think feathers would be a good addition to the play dough materials, maybe some nutshells, and some strong fresh leaves…

    1. Feathers would be wonderful. I think Jack and Sarah would really like them. What are nutshells?

      1. Nutshells are the hard outer shell of nuts… like walnut shells would be perfect with a nice texture (if cracked open perfectly in half or even whole)

        1. Oh of course they are haha pops 😛 Walnut shells would be wonderful. I saw one of my favourite blogs, This Brown Wren, make lovely boats with walnut shells. I haven’t seen any around lately…I wonder when they come into season….

  4. This is a lovely idea. I’ve had that book on my Amazon wish list for ages! I really like the idea of them being able to return to things over and over, I’ll be interested to see how it develops too.

    1. It’s a really great book. Some of the pictures are a little dated but the principles and the ideas are very inspiring. I really like how each principle is explained with suggestions for how to implement them.

      The activity has been going really well. I wasn’t sure about having the whole art table taken up all the time with the play dough but they haven’t tried to move it in favour of other things. They have just been drawing on the floor. I like that they have been playing there several times throughout the day. It’s going great 🙂 I think your little ones will like it 🙂

  5. This is great, love the idea and the use of the mirror is really effective

  6. i have used mirrors before and it is such a wonderful experience. i got mirrirs cut form an acrylic place and they went really well. I have a psot scheduled for later next month for my lavender playdough, delightful.

    1. They are wonderful, aren’t they? I bought them a while a go not really knowing what I would do with them and now just popping them in all over the place.

      I’m looking forward to your lavender play dough post. Ours is still smelling beautiful.

  7. This is such an inspiring activity! I noticed in the shops today beautiful pot pourri bags with some wonderful dried flowers, seed pods, pine ones etc. but I was thinking do you think these are safe for children to handle?

    1. I would think they probably are. They sound like they would be wonderfully textured. I’ve seen some which have been artificially scented which I think I wouldn’t get but the natural ones would probably be gorgeous.

  8. I love the idea of a week of play dough. Clever. Your children have done a great job. Love.

  9. Hi Kate 🙂 Last year I was rereading Learning Together With Young Children and there was a very similar task to complete. We absolutely loved doing the challenge, as I am sure you guys are.

  10. I love this! It just looks and feels like peaceful play. Thank you for sharing!

  11. Lisa Walker says:

    wouldn’t it be interesting to see if different scents mixed in the playdough subsequently affected their play with it. For example: if lavender was used as the scenting agent would their work with the playdough be more peaceful and thoughtful than if say, peppermint, was used as the scenting, would that playdough work reflect more vigor and vibrancy, etc. Just wondering….. I like exposing my preschool and kindergarten aged grandchildren to a reggio influence when babysitting them 5 days of the week. Always looking for new provocations to present for their perusal.

    1. That would be interesting. I have seen Jack and Sarah respond differently to differently scented playdough. Like you said, lavender and eucalyptus is very calming and they have long slow movements, peppermint and chocolate seem to get them moving a lot more. It’s just about time for a new batch of playdough too… 🙂

  12. Beautiful materials and set up. Do you collect the natural materials alone or with your kids? Also I have some acrylic mirrors; however, it is hard to keep them scratch free. How do you protect yours?

  13. What a lovely invitation to play.

    I often leave a set up for a week or more for my three year old. We are in and out a lot so that way he gets lot of time to explore and use it in different ways. I usually have an idea in the back of my head of other things I could add or change during the week if more inspiration is needed, and I’m also willing to pack it all away if it is not floating his boat and try something else but I feel strongly that kids need time… lots of time… to come and go and really interact with experiences.

    1. Me too Kate 🙂 I don’t really set out too many activities for the kids anymore. When Jack was little, maybe a year old, I would set him out a new activity to do everyday. Now I’d be lucky to do one a fortnight. They get so much more out of having lots of time to really engage with materials. I have some playdough and loose parts out on the table at the moment that has been there for the last week. Jack and Sarah will return to it everyday – several times a day – and play in their own way. And it is so much easier for us, isn’t it? 🙂

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