‘Let’s make playdough’ is a popular sentence with many children. The simplicity of the flour, oil, water and colouring continues to amaze children each time it is made. Each time I engage in making playdough with a child or a group of children, the process appears wonderous, this is evident through their curiosity as they work with the ingredients. Last week I was spending time with my godchild. Her concentration of getting the flour into the bowl, and each time she tries to get more balanced onto the spoon. The weight of the water jug as she is pouring it in, and she carefully watches the splashes of colour add to the flour. At each stage, she puts her hands in and is exploring it in her own little world. The feel of the flour pressed under her palms, the sensation of it running through her fingers. This week however, it was different, she chose to add the oil last. And wow, the experience for her was different to all the other times. She carefully watched the oil fall into the bowl holding it steadily. She looked in amazement, as it is sitting on top of the other ingredients. Giving a curious look towards me, she chooses to put her fingers into the bowl. ‘It’s cold’ she says, as she lifts her fingers with the red mixture underneath falling from her little hands. The curiosity and imagination of her exploring three-year-old mind spent over 30 minutes playing with the mixture as it was. As I sat with her, I could not help but think of the learning that has spontaneously happened here. This is something we do regularly, but this texture is new to her.
Showing the rich learning that happens when open ended materials, time and space are provided – the learning is endless and how interests can easily be extended. For the afternoon, this ‘playdough’ became food which was fed to her teddy, it became poop as she explored her recent toilet training, it became a treasure hunt as she added in small figures to find as she exclaimed ‘arrrggg matey’.
What was fascinating though, was the one thing it didn’t become was playdough! Or playdough as we know it – it was slimy, greasy and liquid. But for her, this was what she made and it was something important in this moment. Afterwards, I was thinking that how we so often become overly focused on the end-product of the playdough, we often overlook these play experiences in getting to the end. We know playing with playdough is enjoyable for children, but more importantly the making of it, so it has become a key activity for many early years services on a weekly basis. However, how much time do we allow for the making of it, in comparison to the ‘playing’ with the final product? Next time, I would love for you to set aside more time for the making of it, the playdough will be there tomorrow, it is only made once and that is where the most fun, and learning is for children.
Lorraine O’ Connor works as an Early Years Specialist with Early Childhood Ireland. She has an MA in Social Studies and BA in Early Childhood Studies. Lorraine’s areas of interest are play, children’s rights and movement. And she is continually intrigued by the playfulness and curiosity of children’s stories through play.