Exploring Play-doh: Part 2

As our Toddler 2 students entered the studio, we had a provocation set up for them. We organized a square tile with a ball of colored play-doh at each child’s seat. In the middle of the table we placed several loose parts and materials, ranging from figurines, marbles, straws, and more. We strategically gave the children a small workspace to see how they would use it and adapt.


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We didn’t require that the children use particular materials, however they all immediately assumed the square tile was a type of placemat or plate, and all the children interacted with the play-doh. What you’ll see in the following photos is each child using completely different materials and having a unique experience even though they are in the same general area.

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One child decided she wanted to draw rather than use the play-doh. Eventually other students began writing, so we followed their lead and encouraged them to spell, write, draw, and doodle.


At one point we encouraged the children to use the same colored marker and express their ideas for the project they made. Several students immediately began drawing recognizable shapes to represent their creations.


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Any parents remember the child in our previous play-doh post who created the straight lines? He was back at it! He continued to explore the concept of lines with various materials, and consequently expanded his understanding of lines, how to make them, how to problem solve by creating a straight line with different shapes, and more.


One child drew her project and we snapped a photo, which you can see below. Children’s “scribbles” reveal invaluable amounts of information about their understanding of concepts, shapes, purposes and imagination. This child’s scribbles illustrate the ballerina, necklace, play-doh and square tiles.


One of the children began using the paint that was in the middle of the table instead of the markers. You can see here where she is painting the blue stones in the middle of her yellow play-doh.


This child was immersed into imaginary play, something we love to see. He created dialogue for the knight and told a story as he played with the materials. He continued this imaginary play for several minutes before he decided to pick up a marker and add a different element to his idea. At one point he managed to complete his idea and arranged the play-doh to go in the bed of the toy truck and placed bits of the play-doh inside the truck as well.



Some of the children decided to use the tiles as blocks. We incorporated math and counted each block, the number of marbles, and how many blocks are in one certain stack.


One child picked up each item and verbally declared what that item represents. He strategically chose specific animal and people to place in his play-doh.


This child drew her play-doh project. Note how her drawings of the colors and shapes correctly correlate with her creation. During the process, we observed her counting how many materials she used.


One child took the direction of drawing to a new level when he drew on the square tile around the play-doh. If you look closely, you can see the scribbles on the tile.


This child formed two snakes with purple play-doh, then she drew the snakes onto a piece of paper and eventually placed the play-doh creation on top of the piece of paper and wrote the word snake underneath her sketch. Through this project, she displayed creativity and depth of knowledge.


We observed a variety of abstract ideas during this activity. Study the illustrations below. When directly compared to the original creation, most of the colors and shapes are remarkably consistent.


Without any predetermined lesson plan, the children managed to produce a rich learning experience from their natural interests. Whether the child was interested in straight lines, snakes or communicating the textural variations from a physical object, each student was allowed to explore their imagination and creativity. We regularly encouraged them to express their ideas in different forms in order to deepen their understanding of their project and reorganize concepts, thoughts and theories to construct new meaning. We worked on motor skills, math, writing, spelling, colors, and shapes. This activity demonstrated the children’s natural curiosity to learn and not be “filled in.” You can see just through this activity that children desire to acquire knowledge and communicate.

Notice how all the children were presented with the same materials and given the same opportunities, and each child created a distinctive and unique final project? Parents- if we would’ve instructed the students to create a predetermined lesson plan like a smiley face with their play-doh, we would’ve missed out on so much creativity and personal growth.   Allowing creative exploration with materials creates intellectual learning.  Children reason, predict, hypothesize, and problem solve rather than reciting and memorizing.  This is at the core of the Reggio approach.

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