Provide modeling materials
The last two posts were about creating the ideal setting for creative play by clearing out space and providing open-ended toys. Today I want to zero in on one of the most open-ended toys available - modeling materials!
Anything which changes shape in response to the human hand is a modeling material. Wonderful modeling materials for preschoolers include sand (especially with water), garden dirt, bread dough, and homemade playdough. Older preschoolers might also enjoy modeling with beeswax modeling clay (although it’s definitely fine to save this for the kindergarten years or later).
We also have fun at our house with silly putty, cornstarch and water (we call it mushy gushy), homemade oobleck/slime, wool roving (wet felting is amazing!), papier mache, and making up spontaneous recipes for playdough-like mixtures (which we call potion plan).
In the toddler years children most need the sensory experience of playing with modeling materials. In the preschool years they start wanting to “make something,” so it’s a good time to introduce materials that keep their shape when molded. It’s still best to keep this as an open-ended activity though. For example, if you told a preschooler “make an apple,” he might end up frustrated that his work doesn’t look like the apple he had in mind. But if he made a shape with nothing in mind and it looked like an apple he would suddenly shout with glee, “It’s an apple! Look, I made an apple!” That shape could still become so many more things as well.
Modeling is the very best “handwork” for young children. It’s completely open-ended play and an invitation to make the props as needed. It’s a wonderful sensory experience and good for building fine motor sensitivity and strength. It also provides a soul lesson: It’s a very human experience to work with the hands and be infinitely creative. It’s an earth-bound experience for what we touch to keep changing again and again.
How to provide modeling materials:
1. Make sure your child has a chance to play outside in the sand, water, and dirt.
2. Try making homemade playdough! This is an easy project and so great to have on hand for any child from toddler age through the early grades.
3. In the preschool years, let modeling materials just be another prop for open-ended and creative play (no need to make a lesson out of it).
What is your child's favorite modeling material?